Surroundings Conducive To Sleep
( Originally Published 1914 )
WHETHER or not the physical combine with the mental in causing insomnia, there are always certain conditions of stage setting, as it were, which if observed will facilitate, if not produce sleep. The general principles applicable to the treatment of sleeplessness must consider the individual and his environment. Some environments are contributory to slumber, peaceful and refreshing, just as others are provocative of wakefulness. One man, however, may sleep soundly in quarters and in an atmosphere that will move another to the most fundamental protest and rebellion.
The Bedroom.—The bedroom should be large and airy and light should be excluded therefrom, also all unnecessary hangings. A person suffering from insomnia should safeguard himself from all external stimuli which annoy and irritate him. As to ventilation, read Benjamin Franklin on the advantage to be derived from sleeping in rooms that are properly aired. "It has been a great mistake," says he, "this sleeping in rooms exactly closed and in beds surrounded by curtains. No outward air that may come into you, is so unwholesome as the unchanged air, often breathed, of a close chamber. As boiling water does not grow hotter by longer boiling, if the particles that receive greater heat can escape, so living bodies do not putrefy, if the particles, as fast as they become putrid, can be thrown off. Nature expels them by the pores of the skin and lungs; and in a free open air they are carried off; but, in a close room, we receive them again and again, though they become more and more corrupt. A number of persons, crowded into a small room, thus spoil the air in a few minutes, and even render it mortal, as in the Black Hole at Calcutta. A single person is said to spoil only a gallon of air per minute, and therefore requires a longer time to spoil a chamberful; but it is done, how ever, in proportion and many putrid disorders hence have their origin. It is recorded of Methusalem, who being the longest liver, may be supposed to have best preserved his health, that he slept always in the open air, for, when he had lived 500 years, an angel said to him, `Arise, Methusalem, and build thee an house, for thou shalt live yet 500 years longer.' But Methusalem answered and said, 'If I am to live but 500 years longer, it is not worth while to build me an house—I will sleep in the air as I have used to do.' Physicians after having for ages contended that the sick should not be indulged with fresh air, have at length discovered, that it may do them good. They may, in time, discover likewise, that it is not hurtful to those who are in health."
When confined air becomes saturated with perspirable matter, the rest of that matter remains in our bodies, and so occasions disease, but it gives some previous notice of its future harm by producing certain uneasiness, slight in-deed at first, such as a trifling sensation with regard to the lungs and a kind of restlessness to the pores of the skin. This restlessness is difficult to describe, and few that feel it know the cause of it. But we may recollect, that sometimes on waking in the night, we have found it difficult, if warmly covered, to get to sleep again. We turn frequently without finding repose in any position. This fidgetiness is occasioned wholly by an uneasiness in the skin, owing to the retention of the perspirable matter. What physicians call the perspirable matter, is that vapour which passes off from our bodies, from the lungs, and through the pores of the skin. The quantity of this is said to be five-eighths of what we eat and drink.
Each individual must be considered in reference to his habits and customs regarding preparation for sleep; whether it be for walking, bathing, reading, eating, drinking, smoking, abstraction, planning, poetising or praying. Some persons feel it essential to have some easily digested food or mildly stimulating drink before retiring, others are convinced that reading or being read to facilitates the coming of Nature's soft restorer. Others find it essential to smoke. Then, of course, there are faddists; those who must walk about unclad in the cool air, those who must have certain kind of bed clothing, those who must breathe in a particular way, etc., etc.
Baits to Catch Sleep.--Many poor sleepers outwit the demon that is persecuting them by resorting to some method of dulling the senses either by gazing steadily at some object until their eyelids feel heavy when they hope to bridge the strait between momentary fatigue and genuine sleep at one leap, or by listening to some monotonous sound or calling up some particularly sedative scene or tiresome experience.
That sleep often results from monotonous repetition of one kind of stimulation, noise, sound or light everyone knows. The efficacy of the rhythmical rocking of the cradle, the monotonous chant of the lullaby, the sound of running water, and the dull voice of the monotonous lecturer, all testify to this. In fact many insomniacs successfully utilise it to produce sleep. Wordsworth would sleep by calling up in his mind's eye :
A flock of sheep which leisurely pass by One after one; the sound of rain, and bees, Murmuring; the fall of rivers, wind and seas, Smooth fields, white sheets of water and pure sky; but to do this successfully one has to have what may be called the meditative faculty.
One of the most amusing contributions to the literature of efforts of this kind is furnished by Southey who describing one of his sleepless nights said, I listened to the river and to the ticking of my watch; I thought of all sleepy sounds and of all soporific things—the flow of water, the humming of bees, the motion of a boat, the waving of a field of corn, the nodding of a mandarin's head on the chimney piece, a horse in a mill, the opera, Mr. Humdrum's conversation, Mr. Proser's poems, Mr. Laxative's speeches, Mr. Lengthy's sermons. I tried the device of my own childhood and fancied that the bed rushed with me round and round. At length Morpheus reminded me of the Torpedo's Divinity lectures, where the voice, the manner, the matter, even the very atmosphere and the streaming candlelight were all alike soporific; when he who, by strong effort, lifted up his head and forced open the reluctant eyes never failed to see all around him asleep. Lettuces, cowslip wine, poppy syrup, mandragora, hop pillows, spiders' web pills, and the whole tribe of narcoties up to bhang and the black draught would have failed; but this was irresistible, and thus twenty years after date I found benefit from having attended the course." Long distance suggestion most of us would call this, but still a brilliant and convincing testimonial to the power of monotonous stimulation.
The place to sleep is in a comfortable bed in the open air if possible. Circumstances are such that for the vast majority it is impossible to sleep out of doors. To sleep in a draught is the next best place. There are few things that contribute to sleep as does fresh, pure air. It has taken us a long time to realise this and sleeping in rooms that are practically unventilated is still unquestionably the habit with the majority of people. "The damp night air" is the bogey man for countless grown-ups still. Not only do the lungs and blood need air at night but so does the skin. Yet notice the precaution that we take with blanket and wadded covering to make sure that it does not get in. The child, the savage and the primitive man kick them off. Nature has her way. But once convention gets them in her grasp, then they stay "tucked in." In this country we have been delivered from the bondage of the feather tick but we are still struggling with heavy, nearly air-impervious blankets.