( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Nothing lowers the vital forces more than sleeplessness, which may generally be traced to one of four causations: (1) mental worry; (2) a disordered stomach; (3) excessive muscular exertion; (4) functional or organic disease. Loss of sleep is, when rightly understood, one of Nature's premonitory warnings that some of her physical laws have been violated. When we are troubled with sleeplessness, it becomes requisite to discover the primary cause, and then to adopt suitable means for its removal. When insomnia, or sleeplessness, arises from mental worry, it is indeed most difficult to remove. The best and perhaps the only effectual plan under such circumstances to reach the root of the disorder is t spare diet, combined with plenty of outdoor exercise, thus to draw the blood from the brain; for it is as impossible for the brain to continue active without a due circulation of blood as it is for an engine to move without steam.
When suffering from mental distress, a hot soap bath before retiring to rest is an invaluable agent for obtaining sleep, as by its means a more equable blood pressure becomes established, promoting a decrease of the heart's action and relaxation of the blood vessels. Many a sleepless night owes its origin to the body's temperature being unequal. In mental worry, the head is often hot and the feet cold, the blood being driven to the brain. The whole body should be well washed over with carbolic soap and sponged with very hot water. The blood then becomes diverted from the brain, owing to an adequate diffusion of circulation. Tea and coffee should not be taken of an evening when persons suffer from insomnia, as they directly induce sleeplessness, being nervine stimulants. A sharp walk of about twenty minutes is also very serviceable before going to bed.
Sleeplessness is sometimes engendered by a disordered stomach. Whenever this organ is overloaded, its powers are disordered, and wakefulness or a restless night is its usual accompaniment. Dr. C. J. B. Williams, F.R.S., remarks that no food should be taken at least within one hour of bedtime. It cannot be too generally realized that the presence of undigested food in the stomach is one of the most prevailing causes of sleeplessness. Persons suffering from either functional or organic disease are peculiarly liable to sleeplessness. When inability to sleep persistently occurs, and cannot be traced to any perverted mode of life or nutrition, there is good reason for surmising that some latent malady gives rise to a condition so truly distressing. Under these circumstances, instead of making bad worse, by swallowing deadly sleeping drugs, a scientific physician should be without delay consulted. Functional disorders of the stomach, liver, and heart, are often the primary source of otherwise unaccountable wakefulness.
Recently the dangerous and lamentable habit of promiscuously taking sleeping draughts has unfortunately become very prevalent, en-tailing misery and ill health to a terrible degree. Most persons addicted to this destructive practice erroneously think that it is better to take a sleeping draught than lie awake. A greater mistake could hardly exist. All opiates more or less occasion mischief, and even the state of stupefaction they induce utterly fails to bring about that revitalization resulting from natural sleep. The physiological effect of hypnotics, or sleeping draughts, upon the system is briefly as follows: (1) They paralyze the nerve centers and disorder the stomach, rendering it unfit for its duties; witness the sickness and loss of appetite consequent upon a debauch. Chloral, chloroform, opium, etc., act upon the system much in the same way as inebriation. (2) One and all anaesthetics introduced into the body have life-destroying properties in a low degree — proved by an overdose being fatal. (3) The condition they produce is not sleep, but a counterfeit state of unconsciousness. (4) They directly poison the blood, consequent upon its carbonization, resulting from their action. While speaking of sedatives, we cannot omit drawing special attention to chloral. This powerful drug is popularly supposed to give a quiet night's rest, without any of the after effects (headache, etc.) produced by various preparations of morphia. Now chloral is what is termed cumulative in its action, which implies that even the same dose, persisted in for a certain length of time, may cause death. Of all hypnotics, chloral is by far the most deadly, and should never, under any circumstances, be taken except under medical supervision.
To epitomize what has already been said regarding sleeplessness: its rational cure should be arrived at in each individual case by seeking out the cause, and then removing the morbid action, of which it is but a natural sequence.
Lastly, sleeplessness, under no circumstances, should be neglected, as it acts disastrously both on the mental and physical forces.