Sleep Is Your Rejuvenator
( Originally Published 1956 )
LARRY LOOKED at the wastebasket where he had thrown his sleeping tablets. "That shows you," he said, "how much confidence I have in your advice. Sleeping pills were my props. I can't remember when I've been able to get a night's sleep without them. I depended on them to keep me from collapsing from sheer exhaustion. Tell me, why is sleep that important?"
"You'd better ask," I said, "why do we keep awake?" "What do you mean?" asked Larry.
"Sleep," I said, "is a primitive state interrupted only by wakefulness. There's a University of Chicago physiologist, Nathaniel Kleitman, who tells us that primitive man awoke only from the necessity of keeping alive. And why do you suppose that we wake? So that we may make a living, and do all the other things we want to do."
Sleep is so fundamental to life itself that animals deprived of sleep for four or five days have died; yet these same animals have been able to live twenty days without food. And although people have been known to live for as long as six weeks without eating, a man forced to stay awake for more than ten days would probably die.
"I know I go to pieces when I'm deprived of sleep," said Larry. "But I didn't know that it was a more natural state than waking."
"The nearest you ever come to absolute rest," I said, "is when you sleep. This respite from activity is essential to your very life. It's the time when your body can replenish its vital energy. Both your body and your mind must have this renewal, or they fail to operate properly."
Your physical type may to some extent predetermine the amount of sleep you need. Dr. Paul Sheldon, of Columbia University, points out that the fatties (endomorphs), the skinnies (ectomorphs), and the musculars (mesomorphs) re-quire different amounts of sleep. The fatties eat a lot—and sleep a lot. The muscular ones can get along with very little sleep. The skinnies should work for deep, fully relaxed sleep, since they suffer more from nervous fatigue. Larry's insomnia had whittled him down to a skinny.
Your psychological make-up also influences the amount of sleep you need. The man who does physical work needs less sleep than the brain worker. The fellow who looks forward eagerly to the day's activities is never a slugabed. The men-tally alert sleep less than the ones of limited interests.
Man probably sleeps fewer hours than any other animal. The hours of sleep necessary to relieve fatigue and to restore your nervous energy and your physical abilities vary with many other factors: your age, the degree of your fatigue, the state of your general health, and your nervous and emotional control.
"Before I went into business for myself," said Larry, "I always tried to get eight hours of sleep a night. Yet even then I never woke up rested."
"Then, your body wasn't taking full advantage of your sleep," I said. "You put it to the task of refreshing you, and it played hookey. If you feel rested when you wake up, you've had enough sleep. If not, maybe you've had a long-enough sleep—but filled with restless tossing and turning. A short, but deep, sleep does you far more good than a long disturbed one."
"You mean I'm better off if I sleep less," asked Larry, "providing I sleep soundly?"
"That's right," I said. "Quit worrying about the number of hours you sleep. It's the quality of that rest, not the quantity. The first two hours of your sleep are so sound that they count for as much as the next six. You never rest uniformly. Sleep comes in waves, varying from deep to light. Your first wave, about three hours in duration is the soundest."
According to an old wives' tale, two hours of sleep before midnight are worth four after. Many insomniacs, once they are able to get to sleep, awaken easily in the early morning, following that first, deep wave.
It doesn't matter when you go to bed if you get your needed proportion of sleep to waking hours. A few years ago, R. Buckminster Fuller, the designer of the Dymaxion House, experimented with sleep for two years. He averaged only two hours of total sleep out of twenty-four, but he slept for half-hour periods every six hours. Another business in-inventor tried sleeping thirty minutes after every two and a half hours. Both men ended the experiments in good physical and mental condition.
There are many famous cat nappers. The great inventor Thomas A. Edison slept no more than four or five hours a night. He took frequent ten- or fifteen-minute naps during the day. Eisenhower includes a nap in his busy schedule. And Sir Winston Churchill, at every opportunity—in a car, a plane, or a bedroom—pulls out his black satin eyeshade, puts it on, and refreshes himself with a nap.
Since a short nap consists of the first and deepest sleep, it has the potency of a much longer period of shallow sleep. Take a thirty-minute nap in the daytime, and you may be able to save at least an hour's sleep at night.
"If you think you can't fit a daily nap into your schedule," I went on, "at least turn the anxious moments of waiting—for trains, appointments, or phone calls—into periods of rest and relaxation. Close your eyes, let go of tension, and sink into momentary repose. Every period during the day which you can set aside for rest, however brief, will pay off in better sleep at night."
"That," said Larry, "will take some disciplining—but maybe I can manage it. Instead of fuming over a delayed appointment I'll try to grab some needed rest."
I looked at his bulging briefcase and asked: "Are you taking all that work home with you?"
"I have," he said, "ever since I've had my own business. I look over the sales reports and orders before I go to bed. Then I know just what has to be done the next day."
"So all night long you keep your subconscious busy working out business problems? How do you expect to get any rest?" I asked. "You don't give your brain a chance to rest if you work it during the night."
"I never thought of that," answered Larry. "It just seemed that whatever problems I reviewed at night were straightened out for me by morning."
"Four hours of sound sleep," I said, "are the irreducible minimum needed to restore your physical energy. If you have a lot of nervous tension and brainfag to contend with, then four hours aren't nearly enough to repair your worn-out tissues. To replenish your nerve-cell energy, you must spend a few more hours in bed. You can make up the energy you lose during a week of emotional strain or overwork by staying in bed on Sunday. How well you can repay a sleep debt depends on your age. The younger you are, the more a late morning sleep can pay off the accumulated debt and leave you as mentally and physically alert as ever. It becomes harder to repay a sleep debt as you grow older and your nerves are more frazzled."
"Isn't it true," asked Larry, "that older people sleep less? that they need less sleep?"
"No," I replied. "The ones who sleep fewer hours at night make up their sleep with cat naps during the day. Older people need sleep to keep healthy just as much as the rest of us. Dr. Harry Johnson, head of the Life Extension Institute, Inc., in New York, found that the men and women who lived to ninety years all had one thing in common: they got plenty of sleep. They all slept about eight hours every night the year around."
"If I know I have a hard day ahead of me," said Larry, "as soon as I go to bed I start worrying about getting enough sleep to face it."
"That's typical," I said, "of some of the answers in a study by the Gallup Poll on the millions who have trouble going to sleep. If you go to bed with unfinished business on your mind you can always find some new worry to strangle your sleep. Since we remain awake only when the brain is sufficiently stimulated, it's necessary to acquire the habit of mental relaxation before bedtime. How well you sleep, not how long, determines how you feel, how productive you are, and how long you live!"
"I suppose there are methods," said Larry, "of acquiring this habit of mental relaxation. Only I'm afraid I don't know any of them."
"There are lots of them," I said. "You'll have to choose the ones that are best for you. Most of us have to destimulate at bedtime. A walk in the fresh air is good preparation for sleep. So is a warm bath. And music acts as a warm bath for the mind. Keep the music soft, and the slight effort of listening drives out all other thoughts."
"How about reading?" asked Larry. "I know fellows who relax with murder mysteries."
"Yes," I said, "mysteries relax some people—and others can't sleep a wink for trying to figure out whodunit. Biography and poetry are better bedtime reading."
"Poetry bores me," said Larry.
"Fine," I commented. "Boredom is the first cousin to somnolence. Anything that bores you may help to put you to sleep. Try to get the feeling that you're going to hand the weight of your body over to somebody else to carry for a while."
"I wish I could," said Larry, "with all its cramped muscles and aches."
"You can break the habit of muscular tension," I said, "and get rid of those aches by relaxing your body right at your desk each time you complete a task. First, let your head fall back against the headrest of your chair. Let it drop back easily, not rigidly, as though your head were falling off your shoulders. That relaxes the muscles in the back of the neck. Next, relax your legs by stretching out your feet as far as possible, pushing your toes out as far as you can extend them. Relax your arms by raising them and then letting them fall limply at the side. Sit loosely in your chair, with every muscle relaxed. Let your chair bear the full weight of your body."
As I talked in a quiet monotone Larry was unconsciously following instructions. When he realized that he had sunk back loosely in his chair he laughed.
"It's contagious," he said. "I'm actually relaxed—instead of sitting on the edge of my chair ready to take off."
"Nervous and emotional tensions can't exist," I said, "when your body is fully relaxed. A before-bed relaxation is invaluable. It enables you to fall asleep faster and to sleep more soundly."
"Is there anything to this theory," asked Larry, "that some people are temperamentally suited to early-morning work, and some to night work?"
"Indeed there is," I said, "and it applies to insomnia, also. Your ability to sleep or stay awake follows the variation in your body temperature, which rises and falls about two degrees each twenty-four hours. It's usually at its lowest from two to six in the morning. As the body gets more active the temperature rises. You're most alert mentally and physically when your temperature reaches its peak. If that peak is reached in the early afternoon you're a morning worker, and you should follow the maxim, Early to bed and early to rise. But if you're at your best in the late afternoon or early evening you'd do better in a job that lets you sleep late in the morning."
If your fatigue is mental, exercise is better for you than more sleep. The brain rests when the muscles are working. Colgate University experimenters found that brawn workers required only half as much sleep as brain workers. To invite deep, restful sleep you must balance your body's activities.
"What about eating before going to bed?" asked Larry.
"You shouldn't go to bed with your stomach empty," I said, "nor should you overload it with rich food. A glass of fresh or reconstituted skim milk or of buttermilk is usually enough to draw the blood from your tired brain and comfort your body psychologically. Milk—buttermilk, in particular—contains the body chemicals that have a direct bearing on sleep: calcium and lactic acid. High-potency organic calcium-mineral tablets, taken with a glass of buttermilk half an hour before you go to bed, will help you to sleep and improve your general health at the same time."
Calcium feeds the nerve ends which conduct the stimuli, in the sleep cycle, between the sleep center in the brain, the nerves, the muscles, and the blood stream, and then back to the brain. When this cycle is operating efficiently, with lactic acid in the blood sending the calcium forward to the sleep center of the brain, it's impossible for the conscious mind not to sleep at regular intervals.
If the blood stream doesn't contain enough calcium and lactic acid the operation of the cycle is not efficient. The complex sleep center which controls our sleeping and waking cannot produce the drowsiness and inactivity of the conscious mind necessary for sleep.
A deep and restful sleep entails the degree of mental and physical inactivity essential for the reactivation of the human body. You must have sufficient calcium and lactic acid to balance the sleep chemistry of the blood, or you invite insomnia and nervousness.
The sleeping-pill habit is dangerous. In a semidrugged state, how could you cope with a fire—or a burglar? There's always the risk of taking too many. When you awaken from a natural sleep you feel rested and reinvigorated. When you stagger out of the drugged insensibility produced by a sleeping pill, you're nervous and irritable, your coordination is bad, you drop things, and you have a general feeling of grogginess and depression.
There are two types of habit-forming drugs which are sold to millions of Americans yearly. Some of the more powerful drugs contain barbiturate and require a prescription. The milder type of sedative does not. Until recently these drugs were seldom used except to control pain.
Many sleeping tablets contain amidopyrine or pyramidon,both of which destroy the white blood corpuscles in some people. When this happens the resistance to infection be-comes so low that a common cold may result in sudden death. More than 1,300 recent deaths in this country have been attributed to the use of sedative preparations which contain these drugs.
The inability to sleep is not a disease in itself, nor is it often due to a disease. Its beginning is usually traceable to nervousness, worry, or pain. When you use sleeping pills as a crutch their ultimate effect on your nervous system may be harmful enough to produce chronic fatigue. Under ordinary circumstances the ability to sleep well coincides with good physical and mental health.
Are you suspicious, prejudiced, resentful, jealous, or fearful? Insomnia is often caused by emotional disturbances, and all the sleep props you may use—eyeshades, earplugs, special mattresses, electric blankets, temperature control—will not overcome the effects of a harried mind on an undernourished body. Check your diet to see if you eat enough of the foods, especially calcium and lactic acid, that will prepare your body chemically for sleep.
"A diet designed to fit the needs of sleep," I continued, "is the only safe way to fight insomnia. Form the habit of eating balanced meals, and take additional nutritional concentrates as needed. Try to go to bed at the same hour every night—and don't forget the buttermilk nightcap! Quit taking work home to do. When you turn out the light and open the window, pull the curtain of oblivion over your thoughts, erase the day's disappointments, relax every nerve and muscle . . . then go to sleep believing that tomorrow will be better."
"You know," said Larry, "you've convinced me that it really will be. And what's more, I'm feeling so relaxed and drowsy, I think I'll go home and take a nap!"