|Antiques Digest||Browse Auctions||Appraisal||Home|
( Originally Published 1963 )
TO BED, PERCHANCE TO SLEEP
The dictionary calls sleep an "instinct," which is supposed to mean something you've got to do, the way birds have to build nests. The catch comes when you learn, according to this same dictionary that this "instinct to sleep, while strong in infancy becomes increasingly controllable by the will and subject to interference by mental or physical disturbances."
This means that after a hard and often frustrating day's work when we calmly sit down in front of the TV screen to watch two hours of shootings, lootings, and hysteria, an hour of newscasts (in which we learn about one plane crash, two revolutions, bigger and better nuclear bombs, and the latest threat by some dictator or other), listen to a brief report by some famous economist predicting new financial disasters, then turn off the set and glance through some of the lurid details in the newspaper and then expect to sleep-we are slightly mad. The most amazing thing of all is that millions of people do. Whether or not sleep is an instinct, the need for it is incredibly strong and when you get tired enough almost nothing will keep you from dropping off. Men can sleep in trenches before a big battle. People have been known to sleep during air raids.
I know that I have to sleep. What's more I don't think anyone or anything can, ever has, or ever will be able to stop me from sleeping. I'm one of those people who can sleep on buses, on trains, while talking to someone. I've even gone to sleep in a dentist's chair. It's truly my saving grace. I must have about eight or nine hours of sleep every night. I use up so much energy, not only in my work, but in everything I do, that I need a long period of time to recharge. That is exactly what happens when we sleep. Sleep is the great restorer. When we sleep all the vital organs of the body and the entire nervous system slow down, rests, and are repaired. I'm convinced that you can never catch up on lost sleep, and that if you go without sleep for too long a period of time you can never erase a certain amount of degeneration which takes place.
HOW MUCH SLEEP DO YOU NEED?
Probably more than you get. Eight hours is considered the norm, but I know some people who look and can work their best on five or six. Most need more, and there are those who, perhaps because of some problems of metabolism, or, like me, the intensity with which they work, actually need nine, ten or even more hours of sleep every twenty-four hours.
Sleep and beauty are the closest of relatives. Sleep affects your skin, your eyes, your hair, every part of your body. If I go for a long period of time without getting enough sleep, I see my hair lose its lustre, my skin becomes blotchy, my eyes dull.
When a woman says to me "This just isn't one of my days," as if that had been magically ordained somewhere, I think to myself-nonsense. She probably hasn't been eating well, or she hasn't had enough sleep.
You may find it easier to get your full quota of sleep by breaking up the times you sleep. If your schedule permits, sleeping a few hours in the afternoon, the way children do, will make it possible for you to keep late hours and still get up early the next morning looking and feeling your best.
THE CAT NAP
I know how to cat nap. I can go to sleep anywhere in the world. I fall into a deep complete sleep and when I wake up sometimes only fifteen minutes later I feel wide awake and enormously rested. I consider this ability my greatest asset. But I don't consciously do anything. Except that I don't fight it. Barring a sick child, or a fire, when that sleepy feeling comes over me I drop out of this busy world and a short time later when I return to it I'm ready to take the whole thing on my shoulders like Hercules.
So many women who keep their beauty way on into their later years are cat nappers. I'm not sure anyone can learn to cat nap, but I do think that by giving in to the urge to sleep whenever it hits you (if possible) you may discover you've been a latent eat napper all along.
INSOMNIA A SLOW FORM OF TORTURE
There come a time in almost everyone's life when they find it hard to sleep. Your mind may be overburdened, perhaps oppressed by a recent tragedy, or you may be in some kind of physical pain or discomfort. Usually, unless you become too tense or overexcited, or resort to too many artificial aids to sleeping, the condition will end and you will sleep despite the problems.
In its chronic form, not sleeping is known as insomnia, and it is probably one of the most terrible afflictions known to man. After several days of not sleeping a man can be made to say or do almost anything. Tyrants throughout history have been aware of this and used this knowledge as a most effective means of torture.
The general consensus of medical opinion is that "loss of sleep is of greater danger to the human body than starvation." It's true. Think about what happens to your body if you don't or can't sleep for several nights. You feel rundown. The least task seems overwhelming. You feel cold. You take offense easily. You lose your appetite and find it hard to digest what you do eat. You have lowered resistance to germ infections, and usually develop a cold which you can't get rid of.
When you haven't slept, any mental effort is usually painful. And insomnia is very often a first stage of nervous breakdown. It plays an important part in a vicious cycle. You can't sleep because you're worried and anxious. You become that much more worried and anxious if you don't sleep. The mole hills in your life become mountains, and the mountains become planets. Then, of course, one of your biggest worries becomes the fact that you can't sleep.
Sleep difficulties are on the increase. Insomnia shows signs of becoming one of our national health problems (along with alcoholism and mental illness). A recent Gallup poll says that 52% of the country has difficulty getting to sleep. Drug companies report steadily increasing sales of sleeping pills. But sleeping pills on a long term basis are not the answer for anyone. Any doctor will tell you that no sleeping pill can produce the quality of natural sleep. These pills are supposed to be used (and I quote from a medical dictionary) "only when all natural sleep-inducing methods have been unsuccessful and when the health is being undermined by insomnia. Given in such cases they should be administered only on a temporary basis to tide the sufferer over a difficult phase and the danger of possible drug addiction must be kept continually in mind."
HOW TO SLEEP THE OLD-FASHIONED WAY
I'd hate to think that sleep-the real old-fashioned natural sleepy kind of sleep is going out of style the way double decker buses and penny candy stores did. I want to make a strong plea for it because I think it's very important. And I want to tell you about all the nice simple ways you can go to sleep without having to resort to the medicine cabinet.
To begin with, is your mattress firm and resilient? Do you have light, but warm covers for the winter months? Is your pillow too plump and fat? Is it too skimpy? Do you go to bed with cold feet, but not realize they're cold till you get into bed, and then feel much too lazy to get out of bed and find some old socks or a hot water bottle to put on them? Is your room sufficiently dark, or is there a neon sign that blinks all night outside the window? Do trucks and sirens shatter the night's silence? Do eats howl outside? Does the next-door neighbor own a high-fi set he plays till dawn?
These are just a few of the many small, common, frustrating obstacles that hinder the sleep of millions. Perhaps what you have considered till now an insomniac problem may have a simple cause and a simple solution after all. So . . . shoot the howling cats, keep old socks in a drawer next to the bed, have the next door neighbor evicted, and so forth.
In all seriousness, the conditions under which you sleep are important. Most human beings have a deep need for quiet, for darkness, for as much bodily comfort as possible, in order to fall into the most peaceful and beneficial kind of sleep. But the things that you need in order to be most peaceful and comfortable are things that only you know about. After all, there are people who sleep best with a neon light blinking in the window.
Sleeping in winter is, or should be, manna to the person who finds it hard to sleep. I find everything about winter makes for good sleeping. Winter tends to be the quietest of the four seasons, even in cities, and especially when there's snow on the ground. At night you get delightfully sleepy because the cold air has stimulated you to expend so much energy during the day. I recommend you try opening your windows wide on winter nights (unless the temperature becomes too low, or rain or snow are falling), and let your room be like an outdoor terrace. Terrace-sleeping is considered a luxury all over the world. It's even used as a health treatment for anemia and TB.
Be sure, if you plan to terrace-sleep, to have a combination of light warm covers and quilts on your bed. I don't think the Dacrons, Orlons and acetate bedclothes are quite as good for warmth and lightness as are the goose-downs and pure Scotch or English wools. Sleep in wool challis or a smooth flannel. Choose something with long sleeves. The combination of cold fresh air in the room, plus the warmth of you and your bed, will do more to give you a deep, restful sleep than anything else I know.
THE WONDERFUL SIESTA
In summer you ought to try and get more sleep during the daytime so that you can enjoy the hot romantic summer nights without yawning in your escort's face. The siesta is a fixed institution in more than half the world, and I see no reason why, on hot summer days, we Americans shouldn't take siestas too.
The traditional European or Latin American siesta is taken during the hottest hours of the day-"when the sun is at its zenith," and almost directly after the mid-day meal, which is usually a good deal heavier than ours and includes the drinking of a lot of wine which helps (or makes the siesta downright necessary). During the hours roughly between two and four in the afternoon the streets in southern European countries like Spain, Italy, and Greece are almost totally deserted. By contrast, they are vividly alive at about one or two in the morning, the coolest hours of all twenty-four in summer.
The formal siesta is observed as ritually as bedtime. Strict quiet is observed, blinds are drawn, people customarily undress, put on nightclothes, unmake the beds. In the hot cities of Spain, light awnings made of sheetlike material are rolled completely over the patios of the buildings so that no direct sunlight can get through to heat up the gardens in which a fountain and trees usually generate coolness to the air. This is how much attention and planning are given to sleeping. And Italy's fountains, when first built by the ancient Romans, were intended not only for decorative and cooling purposes but for the soothing and sleepinducing psychological effects of running water.
The important thing about siestaing is whether you can, practically speaking, include it in your daily life. It may mean no more than lying down to sleep at the same time the children do. If you ever do get the siesta habit, I predict you will probably never give it up.
SLEEP WHEN YOU'RE SLEEPIEST
Try to go to sleep on the crest of your sleepiness. By this I mean, arrange your night-time life so that when that first wonderful sleepy feeling hits you, you can just head for the bedroom and drop off into a delicious sleep. This sounds obvious, I know, but most people don't do it. And they don't do it because usually they haven't yet gone through their pre-bedtime ritual: undressing, bathing, creaming, washing, the brushing of teeth, of hair, et cetera. How many times when you've felt exhausted and ready to drop out of the busy world for the day, have you had to rouse yourself to do these many complicated tasks.
My suggestion: As soon as the children have gone to bed, or just after the dishes are put away, but before you sit down to watch television, read the papers, do homework or answer letters, or whatever-get ready for bed. Go through the whole rigmarole, teeth, face, hair and bath. Then, the moment that first natural easy tiredness comes to you, you will be able to stagger directly into that lovely warm waiting bed. And you'll sleep.
The reason I feel that this is a good plan, especially for anyone who has trouble sleeping, is that too many people allow themselves to get over-stimulated just before bedtime. Then they stay up later than they really want to, and go past their own personal body clock which has already struck bed-time. In this over-tired condition it is harder to fall asleep.
If you get into bed and find yourself too jumpy or tense to fall asleep, don't lie there and work at it. Sleep resents being directly attacked-it becomes like a mirage, increasingly elusive the more you grab for it. Get up. Read a book you've been wanting to read. Sew something you've been meaning to sew. Go to the kitchen and have a glass of milk. Add brandy and honey to the milk and warm it if you are hoping for a quick return to bed. Take a hot bath. Get back into bed only when you feel ready to go to sleep. And you will.
Of course if your insomnia goes on and on you will have to do something more drastic. What is bothering you may go deep. It may be physical, it may be mental. You must try and find the cause of the trouble. To do this, see a doctor who is equipped to handle your physical and mental problems.