Good Health and Bad Medicine:
Obesity - Part 3
Fatigue, Weakness, Poor Appetite And Tonics - Part 1
Fatigue, Weakness, Poor Appetite And Tonics - Part 2
Sexual Weakness, Impotence And Frigidity
Stimulants-coffee, Alcohol, Tobacco And 'pep' Pills
Arthritis And Rheumatism
Read More Articles About: Good Health and Bad Medicine
( Originally Published 1940 )
INSOMNIA, or sleeplessness, is not a disease. It is a symptom of any one of numerous ailments. To cure insomnia, therefore, it is necessary to cure the ailment which causes it.
Some organic ailments, such as cerebral arteriosclerosis, and heart disease, may cause insomnia. It may be caused, too, by intoxication by drugs such as caffeine. A cup of coffee or tea contains from two to three grains of the stimulant drug caffeine. While most people can drink several cups of either beverage daily without suffering from insomnia, there are some who are so sensitive to the drug that a cup of coffee or tea drunk several hours before bedtime can cause restlessness and make it extremely difficult for them to fall asleep. Coca-Cola may have a similar effect, because it, too, contains caffeine. "Pep" pills or "awakeners" contain either caffeine or benzedrine sulphate (see Stimulants, page 237) and should be avoided by people who are sensitive to coffee or tea or who are troubled by insomnia.
In most cases of insomnia, however, there is no organic or toxic basis for the insomnia. It is the emotions that play the greatest havoc with the sleep mechanism. Love, fear, hate, anxiety, disappointment, resentment and other strong emotions are the chief disturbers of the nocturnal peace. Emotional disturbances occur in everyone's life and have caused temporary insomnia in many people. And when this is the cause, sound sleep returns when the emotional disturbance has abated.
Often, however, the emotional disturbance does not abate, and insomnia continues. Frequently the disturbance or mental conflict goes on without the individual's being aware of the precise nature of the mental or emotional disturbance. In such cases other nervous symptoms are often associated with the insomnia. Such prolonged, chronic insomnia and nervousness are symptoms of a mental upset known as "psychoneurosis." A neurosis or psychoneurosis (the two terms are frequently used interchangeably) is the most important cause of habitual insomnia.
Since habitual insomnia is a symptom of many disorders, the only rational method of treatment is to consult a physician. If there is no organic cause, and if sensitivity to coffee, tea, alcohol and other foods has been excluded, it will be necessary to consult a psychiatrist so that proper treatment of the emotional or mental disturbance may be attempted.
Temporary insomnia may be relieved by physical and mental relaxation. Pleasurable exercise that causes a slight feeling of fatigue will induce the proper feeling of relaxation which is so useful in promoting sleep.
Reading in bed may help produce mental relaxation. A warm bath or a drink of hot milk may also have a sedative effect. While alcohol can cause excitement in some people, in others a glass of beer or wine before retiring may prompt sleep.
The claims of Ovaltine that it is a unique sleep-promoter do not stand up under scientific scrutiny. According to the Council on Foods of the American Medical Association, Ovaltine is simply a chocolate-flavored, dry malt extract containing a small quantity of dried milk and eggs. Since the directions are to dissolve the powder in milk, any effect Ovaltine will have on sleep will be simply the effect of a glass of warm milk. There is no scientific evidence that Ovaltine or any other food preparation will "draw excess blood from the brain" (excess blood in the brain does not cause insomnia) or "improve the quality of sleep."
Although there is a certain amount of regulation of the sale of sleep-inducing drugs such as sedormid, bromural, phenobarbital (Luminal) and dozens of others, many people manage to overcome the restrictions in one way or another and have become addicted to one or more sleep-inducing drugs. Aside from the danger of addiction to a drug habit, these people may suffer from many toxic effects of the drugs. Phenobarbital (its trade name is Luminal), for example, when taken over a long period of time can cause indigestion, skin rashes, depression of the nervous system, and even destruction of the blood corpuscles, and consequent anemia.
When properly used or administered by a competent physician, these drugs have a useful place in the treatment of many disorders. Like all drugs, they are two-edged swords—useful in the hands of those competent to administer them; dangerous in the hands of the ignorant or incompetent. The use of sleep-inducing drugs for the treatment of habitual insomnia should never be made a substitute for scientific medical and psychiatric treatment.