Some Characteristics Of Sleep
( Originally Published 1914 )
Or all the remarkable and wonderfully adjusted elements and agencies that go to the making up of the human machine, and that contribute to its maintenance in proper working order, none is so essential as sleep.
Thanks to its magic restorative virtue, the life force that we expend during the day is renewed in us during the night. The wear and tear of sixteen hours of work and play is repaired in eight hours of recuperative slumber.
During the day, life flows out from us at every muscular or mental effort. During the night, it flows in with every sleeping inhalation. And we do not live by days or years, but by the margin between what we expend of our vitality during the day and what we gain during the night.
So long as man was satisfied to spend during the day only as much energy as he could make up at night during sleep, the race was vigorous and long-lived; old age began at eighty. In these strenuous days, however, work and play are both under such heavy pressure that twice as much life flows out of us during the day as flows into us during the night, and old age be-gins at forty.
The Approach of Insomnia.—The man who crowds sixteen hours of labour into eight, or eight hours of dissipation into four, may delude himself for a while into the belief that as he is working and playing harder, so he is sleeping harder. Unfortunately this is a fallacy.
He will not realise at first that he is no longer living on his income of energy but that he is eating up his capital and making daily inroads into his reserve supply of vital force.
Because he is sleeping the same number of hours, he will fancy that each hour has the same recuperative value that it had before he began "oiling the wheels of time" and inflating his sixteen hours of wakefulness into thirty-two.
He will soon find, however, not only that his nights do not offset his days but that they contain less and less restorative balm. Each morning he will rise less refreshed, each night he will feel more exhausted. And then, as his daytime efficiency diminishes his nocturnal restlessness will increase.
He will no longer be able to "steep his senses in forgetfulness" and the cares that infest the day will tug at his pillow through half the night. From eight hours sleeping he will come down to four and then to shreds of fitful and dream-haunted slumber which, pieced out minute to minute, will represent less than two hours of unconsciousness.
Soon he will fancy that even this brief and inadequate surcease has been curtailed. He will grow convinced that sleep cannot come to him and under the fret of this one idea he will gradlually come to a complete forgetfulness of how to sleep. Pity the man or woman who has reached this stage. Few if any of the ills of life obscure so completely the sunshine of happiness as does insomnia.
The unfortunate victim will begin the day under the shadow of doubt. Before it is yet noon, he will be obsessed with the idea that the coming night will not bring him sleep. Behind every thought, will lurk the fear that the hours of darkness must be spent in restless tossing. He will become haggard of face, wandering in attention, impatient in manner, hesitating in speech and bungling in mind.
Life will flow out of him not only during the hours of daylight, but during every minute of his wakefulness and he will suddenly find himself confronted with the realisation that his re-serve supply of energy and vital strength is exhausted.
If, in the face of this calamity, the victim pause long enough to analyse his condition, he will find that it is due in large measure to the crumbling of his will power, overwhelmed as it has been day after day by tasks beyond human endurance. If the modern galley slaves of business who take pride in being likened to "live wires" could achieve the impossible and extinguish the life in the wires upon retiring for the night, all might be well. A fresh current would flow into them as they slept and the dynamo would find itself recharged in the morning. Unfortunately the wire keeps sputtering all night and ultimately burns itself out.
The sufferer from insomnia may take himself in hand before he is totally bankrupt of will power. He may decide to expend less energy during his waking hours, hoping thereby to lessen the daily overdraft upon his reserve strength. If he still has a sufficient balance of vitality to his credit this may be the turning point and in time he may find himself sleeping normally. Too often, however, even when the high pressure of business and fast living has been removed, sleep remains away. At this stage the victim has forgotten how to sleep.
Fortunately, sleep is a habit so deeply ingrained that it can be picked up again easily if we apply ourselves to the task with system and perseverance. To show how this may be done is one of the objects of this book.
In order that sufferers from sleeplessness may be able to rid themselves of their harassing infirmity, it is necessary that they should know something of the natural history of sleep and of the causes of insomnia. These may be stated briefly and simply, but first it is necessary to state definitely that the cultivation of an effective will is perhaps the most important step to-wards relief. The capacity to exert the will and even the capacity for concentration upon which such exertion depends are often greatly diminished. These must be built up.
The Will to Sleep.—It is to those who feel the shadow of this apparently needless affliction settling down upon them and who have not yet despaired that this message is addressed. For those who can still think clearly and not only search with some measure of keenness for causes but also take up patiently and perseveringly the cultivation of the right attitude toward life, it can be said that there is such a thing as a will to sleep. When this is but an instinct, which has not grown into a conscious will as the other instincts have, but which has come to an early death through neglect, then such a will must be built up. If there was such a will in early days of development and it has been lost, then it must be revived and cultivated.
It must be borne in mind that no one comes off victorious in any battle who does not enter the lists with the determination to succeed. This is said not only as an incentive but as a warning, for just now, some of the newest foes of the insomniac are found in the home of his friends. As the victim tries in desperation of mind to reason out why he, a strong man with a will effective in many undertakings, cannot lay compelling hands on sleep, too often he will find his initial vexation increased by the lack of logic of those who advocate this or that remedy. Particularly is this true when hypnotism is pointed out to him as a means to obtain sleep.
When asked, as a preliminary to acquiring the disposition to sleep, to abandon his full consciousness and put his mind at the disposal of another, he may well hesitate if he realises that he is already the victim of a negative condition and that what he is seeking is a capacity for affirmation. When, on the other hand, he is told that what he must endeavour to do is to acquire the power of discarding demoralising thought and fancies that haunt him and keep him from fulfilling his physiological resting, he realises that he is being urged to affirmation. Especially is this true if he is told that not only must he compel himself to discard these terrors of the night but that he must replace them with purer, higher and restraining thoughts. Such procedure is the fabric of all moral progress and it is the basis of cure of many functional nervous affections. The power of the will over thoughts varies with the individual as everyone knows. There are many thoughts which we would banish from the mind forever were it possible to do so. But they come in stealthily and oftentimes concealed with a flood of others like an unwelcome guest who gets in the house to which he has been forbidden when the doors are thrown wide open for a public reception. The oftener such a guest is forcibly ejected, the less often will he present himself. It is much the same way with unwelcome demoralising thoughts. The mind that is constantly dwelling upon past faults or considering with fear what the future holds in store must be disciplined. Discipline does not imply punishment. It may mean society, travel, diversion, play, religion. But be-fore any of these, save the last, can do any good, the individual must realise that he was not created to punish himself, but simply to be useful and happy and to make others useful and happy. Most of us have an underlying belief that mankind is right in declaring throughout its history that happiness, the sort of happiness that makes life worth living, is bound up with effective effort.
The real test of any cure for insomnia is the degree and kind of happiness it leaves behind it. Happiness of an indefinite sort is not enough for the man who discriminates; he must have happiness of a kind that will wear and which is a quid pro quo in the market-place where he trades endeavour for satisfaction. It is the toughness of the fibre of his happiness, its power to endure a shock and stand before the blazing light of reality, which will determine whether it has been worth while to fight the battle against sleeplessness. To-day fewer men than ever believe that this land of happiness can be the possession of any man who has not added to his power to believe, the power to will the effective accomplishment of independent tasks. The man who knows what he wants and why he wants it, the man who believes in the legitimacy of his desire to possess a will to sleep, who wants this not simply because he is suffering a present annoyance but because he longs to be set free for more effective work, may take heart. His suffering can be cured.