Restful Sleep Powerful Means Of Building Vital Vigor
( Originally Published 1904 )
"Sleep, balmy sleep, That knits up the raveled sleeve of care." —Shakespeare.
One of the most certain means of restoring vitality that has been exhausted by excessive fatigue or by unusual drains on the system, the nerves or the mental faculties, is restful sleep. Good, sound slumber recuperates the body to a wonderful degree. At such times when all the bodily functions are in a quiescent state, the processes of assimilation take place best. It may be well to note that these processes perform their most effective work during the hours before midnight. After that, the circulation of the blood is not as good as before owing to the fact that the general vitality is lessened from thence on, until four or five o'clock in the morning. Oxygen is also consumed in larger quantities before the midnight hour. For those of my readers, then, who are desirous of acquiring a large supply of vital power and a perfectly nourished body, it is recommended that they acquire a habit of going to bed early and obtain at least eight hours of sleep.
The statement that one can live longer without -food than he can without rest, may be doubted by the average person. In one sense, sleep is really a food. It feeds or rather gives the body an opportunity to feed upon itself. It induces that thorough mental and physical relaxation which is really the means of renewing life, energy and power. You may go to bed with the pangs of hunger ever so acute, but during sleep they will nearly always disappear. In some mysterious manner that no physiologist has ever explained, the body finds food within itself. During -the hours of rest, the functional processes have some-how renewed your energies and have added to your general strength. Absolute relaxation is necessary to proper recuperation. It must be admitted that many are unable to completely relax. Their nerves are always on "edge." There is a stiffness, a tenseness about them which, even during sleep, manifests itself by the manner in which they unconsciously grasp at the bed clothing. They awake to often find - themselves lying rigid, every muscle and nerve in a tense condition. To rest properly, to woo the unconsciousness of slumber, you must absolutely relax every muscle, every nerve, every voluntary power of the body. You must learn to "let go." Let the body hang limp and as nearly relaxed as possible. De-energize every part. This may require considerable time.
Remember that it is impossible to rest if your nervous system is on a continuous jump, for after all, the nerves, more than the muscles, need rest. You should lie calm and peaceful with every part of the body entirely relaxed. If it seems difficult to ac-quire this attitude, take note of the following: Raise your arm and then suddenly let it fall unrestrained by any directing effort of your will. Raise both arms and allow them to fall in the like manner. Raise both legs and do likewise. After this, try and continue the feeling of "giving away," as far as all parts of your body are concerned.
There is a proper way to rest exactly as there is a proper way to exercise. Nature, of course, ordinarily teaches us all this through our instincts, but modern civilization often perverts our normal instincts and we must therefore cultivate habits that the wild animals practice without effort.
A bed is only a means to an end, and it is not so much the bed itself that we have to consider as the manner of sleeping in it. How to get the best rest, the most refreshing sleep; that is the great question. The good or ill effects of one's sleep depend very much upon the position taken and maintained during repose. Very few people assume a correct posture when sleeping, and a still less number have sufficient control of themselves to retain any position they choose during slumber. One need not have a bed at all, and yet may get a most comfortable sleep; while another, on a luxurious, downy cot, will awake with bones aching and in a tired condition. It will be evident then, that a position taken in sleep and maintained for hours may be either highly beneficial or absolutely harmful. We would not have so many short women and men if, when they were children, they had been taught to lie correctly in bed. It is during sleep that the growth of the individual takes place, not in the waking hours. It is vitally necessary then that every care and help shall be given Nature, to the end of securing straight, well formed bodies.
A soft bed is enervating, not restful. The body sinks into the debilitating bedding while the circulation is interfered with and the skin is unable to throw off its impurities in a natural way, for it should be remembered that breathing is done through the pores as well as through the lungs. In such a bed in which the body sinks too deeply the tissues and muscles be-come flabby and weak, and the effect of any exercises that may have been taken during the day in the hope of building up the strength, are duly neutralized.
In the same way pillows are enervating, unhealthful and unrestful. The head sinks into the soft and smothering cushions; the breathing is thus rendered imperfect; the muscles of the neck are really strained instead of being rested. Yet, that is the position assumed by millions nightly. The flesh of the face, instead of being untouched and impassive through the night, is always half covered, and the pressure upon it even by the soft pillows throws it out of shape, and causes unnatural folds that in time use no pillow or else a very low one form into wrinkles. As has been said, it is during sleep that Nature is building and the body is growing, or repair is going on. To assist this work there is nothing so good as a moderately hard bed with no pillows or very small ones.
It is custom that has given us the bolster and pillow. They are a legacy and an absurdity of bygone times,. when people were less enlightened than they are supposed to be now, and when physical culture . was not the popular study with high and low alike, that it is today. Customs die -hard and, of course the elimination of these harmful sleeping appliances is a very slow one.
Physiologists are still unable to state positively whether the brain is congested or anaemic during sleep, but it has been conclusively demonstrated that the lower the . head the deeper. is the sleep; and the more it is raised, the lighter it is. A person sleeping in a sitting position is more easily awakened than one who is reclining.
It is urged by those accustomed to many pillows that they never could sleep without them; but it seems so to them simply because no determined effort is ever made to try the other method. Naturally, if one has- used several pillows for years, it will take a persistent trial of some months to prove that- doing without -them is beneficial. Many, women especially, suffer from constant headaches which are due to - high pillows. A number of instances have. come illustration shows good position to assume in sleeping. Though if a brain worker, and head is renclined to the feverish, the arm hand will aggravate this condition and the position illustrated below will be preferable.
Within my observation where pillows have been forbidden by the physician or very low ones made of corn-straw substituted for those of feathers or down, and the headaches have totally disappeared.
I do not by any means maintain that there is only one correct way of sleeping. There are several satisfactory positions and each reader can find out what is best for him after having absorbed certain pies applying to the subject. I this page two correct positions that my readers may find it of advantage to test.
Another good position to assume during sleep. Right arm behind, bent, and wrist under waist.
One wishing to try the experiment of abandoning pillows should do so by degrees. If accustomed to two pillows and bolster, as many are, begin by discarding one pillow only, or, if needs be, get one that is half the size. After a month or two put that away, and a little later use only the half pillow, until finally you come to the bolster alone. If that is too high, have a smaller one or discard it altogether, and simply have the mattress raised a trifle at the head of the bed.
Observe the ease of the position in which there are neither pillows nor bolster, and the mattress is given only a slight pitch upward at the head. The body is at perfect rest, fully extended and graceful; there is just sufficient "give" in the mattress for the shoulder. The one hand placed beneath the cheek helps to keep the body straight and comfortable. It is a question what to do with the arms in sleep, as everyone has found out perhaps. If one arm is deliberately lain Upon, it is apt to stop the circulation, and to cause that sometimes painful sensation known as "pins and needles." When the arms are placed downward in front of the body, it is necessary to place the body in a very peculiar angle. It has been advised that the most restful position during sleep, that is, that in which one will be less disturbed by dreams and awake most refreshed in the morning, is the opposite of that which has been maintained by the body for the greater part of the day. If a person while awake has been reaching upward a great deal, and so keeping the body extended to the full, it will be found that greater restfulness will be secured by taking a reverse position while in bed. There is then some excuse for doubling up the body a part of the time during sleep. Or, on the other hand, if one has been cramped up over a table or desk all the (lay, the greatest good will be obtained by extending the body to the full and lying as prone as possible. There are any number of niceties of posture to be taken, and each person must find out that which best suits his individual needs.
Theoretically one of the best positions for sleeping is lying on the right side, the arm under and back of you, or bend the arm at elbow with the wrist crossing the body under the waist.
Under ordinary circumstances one can usually sleep comfortably while reclining on the back; but no matter what position may be assumed, it is not desirable to cultivate the habit of sleeping only in that one position. It is necessary to change frequently to rest properly. A sound sleeper, resting comfortably, as a matter of fact, will change the position several times during the night without waking.
If you sleep on your back you should not use any pillow at all or else a very thin one of straw. If inclined to suffer from heart trouble, be careful not to sleep on the left side too much. This position sometimes has a tendency to aggravate this malady. Sleeping on the right side is also inclined to assist in the digestion of food as it places the pyloric opening of the stomach on the lower side of the body, and hence facilitates the passage of undigested food from the stomach to the intestines.
There is a tendency to right-sideness in most individuals. It is true that during sleep assimilation is most active. Circulation is equalized, the work of the vital organs is lessened, and it may be that this right side position is, considering everything, the best.
While on the subject of resting, it might not be out of place to call your attention to other matters that relate to it that will assist in bringing about the high degree of physical perfection, which, I take it for granted, each of my students is desirous of possessing.
On retiring at night it is well to arrange the windows so that proper ventilation may be secured. You must be plentifully supplied with fresh, pure air. If you are afraid of draughts, you must try and annihilate that superstition and cultivate the fresh air habit. If not accustomed to sleeping with wide-open windows, do not adopt extreme measures at once. Gradually accustom yourself to breathing pure out-side. air that at all times should be allowed the freest access to your sleeping rooms. Remember that the more nearly you breathe what is practically the out-side atmosphere, the faster you will be able to build physical health.
Do not cover too heavily while in bed. Use only sufficient covering to maintain warmth and no more. You can cover lightly on first retiring if you so de-sire, keeping other spreads near at hand, and, if during the night you feel cold, add more. I know many are inclined to use more than are essential to comfort in the first part of the evening, for fear of becoming cold before morning. This is a serious mistake. Use only that amount of bed clothes which is requisite to comfort at any time.
Do not breathe through your mouth. Mouth breathers usually snore and if you wish to break your-self of this disagreeable habit begin to cultivate breathing through the nose. By keeping in mind the necessity for so doing, you will acquire the habit of breathing properly while asleep. If you have extreme difficulty in breaking the mouth-breathing habit, a device can be worn that will prevent your opening your mouth during sleep, or else a towel or handkerchief can be used for a similar purpose.
One method of breaking mouth-breathing habit. A handkerchief should he folded and passed under the chin, tying it at the top of the head, to keep the jaw from dropping, which in turn will prevent snoring.
Insomnia is one of the most nerve-harrowing complaints that afflict humanity. Though it is not of itself dangerous, it often accompanies or indicates serious diseases. Some medical men claim that it frequently precedes insanity, others, that it alone is sufficient to induce serious mental derangements.
The human brain must have repose. It demands rest as imperatively as does any other part of the body, and when, night after night, the sufferer tosses and tumbles feverishly, unable to obtain the desired unconsciousness, his mentality is obviously endangered.
Sleeplessness, whether transient or chronic, is in nearly every case induced by nervous disorders, which are usually the result of easily ascertained causes and which can be remedied in nearly every in-stance by simple natural methods of cure.
Such disorders are brought on by overwork, either mental, muscular, or functional. An abnormal condition of the nerves can be produced by eating too heartily, and by working too hard either with muscles or with brain. Extreme mental activity will induce insomnia. Want of exercise, sedentary habits, and the internal functional derangements produced by these are frequently contributory causes. The excessive use of alcoholic and other stimulants will often result in a nervous derangement that is accompanied by insomnia.
But probably the most frequent cause of chronic insomnia is the habit of depending on a drug of some kind to induce sleep. This is a most pernicious habit and should be rigorously avoided.
When the disease appears at infrequent intervals, and when of transient duration, it can usually be quickly remedied. But where it has become chronic, and annoys one night after night, it requires constitutional treatment. The entire nervous system must be strengthened by general physical culture methods.
If the trouble is not chronic, some one of the following remedies will be found effective. First of all, remember the necessity for thorough ventilation. Many suffer from sleeplessness when breathing con-fined foul air. Be sure that your windows are wide open and that you are practically breathing the out-side atmosphere.
Never under any circumstances wear the same clothing at night that is worn during the day. A vast amount of impurities are eliminated from the skin, especially when the body is active during the waking hours. A great amount of this naturally adheres to the clothing, therefore it is essential that a complete change he made. Some extreme physical culturists sleep without night clothing of any kind, simply depending upon the covers for warmth. To those who can conveniently and comfortably adopt this method, it is to be highly recommended. The air coming in contact with the skin always has a wholesome influence, provided that it is not productive of severe discomfort.
Drink a glass or two of water and take from twenty to twenty-five deep abdominal breathing exercises just before retiring.
Sometimes your mind is occupied with something so extremely interesting that you are unable to secure slumber. If so, try to divert your thoughts into an-other channel. Think of something that is common-place or belongs to your daily duties.
But no matter what method you adopt, do not make the ridiculous mistake of worrying about your inability to sleep. DEVELOP A "DON'T CARE" ATTITUDE. Try to make yourself realize that you don't care whether you sleep or not. Be calm, satisfied and restful. You can really secure a vast deal of rest without sleep if you' only can develop this mental attitude. If you can make yourself believe that it is of little importance whether you sleep or not, you will often lose consciousness immediately.
But if all this seems to be without results, then rise from your bed and rub your body all Over with a. rough towel or with your open hands. Walk around your room without clothing for a while and then go back to bed and try again, remembering at the same time that every moment spent in worrying about your inability to sleep is energy wasted. Even if this does not accomplish the desired result, take some mild exercise, then another air bath, followed by a cold bath, or, if preferred, a rub down with a wet towel or a sponge.
If sleep does not then follow, the complaint is either chronic in character or else some very exciting influences are at work within you.
The above advice applies more especially to those who have only occasional attacks of insomnia, though in many chronic cases the same methods will be found efficacious.
In the treatment of chronic insomnia, special attention must be given to the diet. The greatest possible care should be taken to avoid overeating and the use of indigestible foods. . Green salads of all kinds can be especially advised, and for the last meal of the day, one made of onions and lettuce, served with a French dressing of oil and lemon juice or vine-gar, can he particularly recommended. There seems to be some peculiar property in green salad, and esspecially in lettuce and onions, that calms the nerves.
Pure water should be kept ready at hand and be very freely used. A habit should be acquired of drinking from one to two glassfuls just before retiring. Long walks in the open air with deep breathing exercises are especially commended. Exercises that build vital strength are also advised.
Be sure to remember that drugs, though they may give temporary relief, will in the end so shatter your nervous system that your ailment will gradually grow worse until it becomes incurable.