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How To Sleep Restfully
Source: The Freedom Of Life
IT would seem that at least one might be perfectly free in sleep.
But the habits of cleaving to mistaken ways of living cannot be
thrown off at night and taken up again in the morning. They go to
sleep with us and they wake with us.
If, however, we learn better habits of sleeping, that helps us in
our life through the day. And learning better habits through the day
helps us to get more rest from our sleep. At the end of a good day
we can settle down more quickly to get ready for sleep, and, when we
wake in the morning, find ourselves more ready to begin the day to
There are three things that prevent sleep,--overfatigue, material
disturbances from the outside, and mental disturbances from, within.
It is not uncommon to hear people say, "I was too tired to sleep"
--but it is not generally known how great a help it is at such times
not to try to sleep, but to go to work deliberately to get I rested
in preparation for it. In nine cases out of ten it is the
unwillingness to lie awake that keeps us awake. We wonder why we do
not sleep. We toss and turn and wish we could sleep. We fret, and
fume, and worry, because we do not sleep. We think of all we have to
do on the following day, and are oppressed with the thought that we
cannot do it if we do not sleep. First, we try one experiment to see
if it will not make us sleep, and when it fails, we try another, and
perhaps another. In each experiment we, are watching to see if it
will work. There are many things to do, any one of which might help
us to sleep, but the _watching to see if they will work keeps us
When we are kept awake from our fatigue, the first thing to do is to
say over and over to ourselves that we do not care whether we sleep
or not, in order to imbue ourselves with a healthy indifference
about it. It will help toward gaining this wholesome indifference to
say "I am too tired to sleep, and therefore, the first thing for me
to do is to get rested in order to prepare for sleep. When my brain
is well rested, it will go to sleep; it cannot help it. When it is
well rested, it will sleep just as naturally as my lungs breathe, or
as my heart beats."
In order to rest our brains we want to lie quietly, relaxing all our
muscles, and taking even, quiet breaths. It is good when we can take
long, full breaths, but sometimes that is too fatiguing; and then we
must not only take moderately long, breaths, but be careful to have
them gentle, quiet, and rhythmic. To make a plan of breathing and
follow it keeps the mind steadily concentrated on the breathing, and
gives the rest of the brain, which has been working on other things,
a chance to relax and find its own freedom and rest. It is helpful
to inhale while we count seven, exhale while we count seven, then
rest and breathe naturally while we count seven, and to repeat the
series of three for seven times; but to be strict with ourselves and
see that we only do it seven times, not once more nor once less.
Then we should wait a little and try it again,--and so keep on for a
number of times, repeating the same series; and we should always be
sure to have the air in our bedrooms as fresh as possible. If the
breathing is steady and rhythmical it helps very much, and to inhale
and exhale over and over for half an hour has a very pleasant,
quieting effect--sometimes such exercises make us nervous at first,
and, if we are very tired, that often happens; but, if we keep
steadily at work, the nervousness disappears and restful quiet
follows which very often brings restoring and refreshing sleep.
Another thing to remember--and it is very important--is that an
overtired brain needs more than the usual nourishment. If you have
been awake for an hour, and it is three hours after your last meal,
take half a cup, or a cup of hot milk. If you are awake for another
two hours take half a cup more, and so, at intervals of about two.
hours, so long as you are awake throughout the night. Hot milk is
nourishing and a sedative. It is not inconvenient to have milk by
the side of one's bed, and a little saucepan and spirit lamp, so
that the milk can be heated without getting up, and the quiet simple
occupation of heating it is sometimes restful in itself.
There are five things to remember to help rest an overtired brain:
1. A healthy indifference to wakefulness. 2. Concentration of the
mind on simple things. 3. Relaxation of the body. 4. Gentle rhythmic
breathing of fresh air. 5. Regular nourishment. If we do not lose
courage, but keep on steadily night after night, with a healthy
persistence in remembering and practising these five things, we
shall often find that what might have been a very long period of
sleeplessness may be materially shortened and that the sleep which
follows the practice of the exercises is better, sounder, and more
refreshing, than the sleep that came before. In many cases a long or
short period of insomnia can be absolutely prevented by just these
Here is perhaps the place to say that all narcotics are in such
cases, absolutely pernicious.
They may bring sleep at the time, but eventually they lose their
effect, and leave the nervous system in a state of strain which
cannot be helped by anything but time, through much suffering that
might have been avoided.
When we are not necessarily overtired but perhaps only a little
tired from the day's work, it is not uncommon to be kept awake by a
flapping curtain or a swinging door, by unusual noises in the
streets, or by people talking. How often we hear it said, "It did
seem hard when I went to bed tired last night that I should have
been kept awake by a noise like that--and now this morning, I am
more tired than when I went to bed."
The head nurse in a large hospital said once in distress: "I wish
the nurses could be taught to step lightly over my head, so that
they would not keep me awake at night." It would have been a
surprise to her if she had been told that her head could be taught
to yield to the steps of the nurses, so that their walking would not
keep her awake.
It is resistance that keeps us awake in all such cases. The curtain
flaps, and we resist it; the door swings to over and over again, and
we resist it, and keep ourselves awake by wondering why it does not
stop; we hear noises in the street that we am unused to, especially
if we are accustomed to sleeping in the stillness of the country,
and we toss and turn and wish we were in a quiet place. All the
trouble comes from our own resistance to the noise, and resistance
is nothing but unwillingness to submit to our conditions.
If we are willing that the curtain should go on flapping, the door
go on slamming, or the noise in the street continue steadily on, our
brains yield to the conditions and so sleep naturally, because the
noise goes through us, so to speak, and does not run hard against
our unwillingness to hear it.
There are three facts which may help to remove the resistance which
naturally arises at any unusual sound when we are tired and want to
One is that in almost every sound there is a certain rhythm. If we
yield to the sound enough to become sensitive to its rhythm, that,
in itself, is soothing. and what before was keeping us awake now
_helps us to go to sleep._ This pleasant effect of finding the
rhythm in sound is especially helpful if one is inclined to lie
awake while travelling in sleeping cars. The rhythm of sound and
motion in sleeping cars and steamers is, in itself, soothing. If you
have the habit of feeling as if you could never get refreshing sleep
in a sleeping car, first be sure that you have as much fresh air as
possible, and then make up your mind that you will spend the whole
night, if necessary, in noticing the rhythm of the motion and sound
of the cars. If you keep your mind steadily on it, you will probably
be asleep in less than an hour, and, when the car stops, you will
wake only enough to settle comfortably into the sense of motion when
it starts again. It is pleasant to notice the gentleness with which
a good engineer starts his train at night. Of course there is a
difference in engineers, and some are much more gentle in starting
their engines than others, but the delicacy with which the engine is
started by the most expert is delightful to feel, and gives us many
a lesson on the use of gentle beginnings, with other things besides
locomotive engines, and especially in our dealings with each other.
The second fact with regard to yielding, instead of resisting, in
order to get to sleep is that listening alone, apart from rhythm,
tends to make one sleepy, and this leads us at once to the third
fact, that getting to sleep is nothing but a healthy form of
If true concentration is dropping everything that interferes with
fixing our attention upon some wholesome object, it means merely
bringing the brain into a normal state which induces sleep when
sleep is needed. First we drop everything that interferes with the
one simple subject, and then we drop that, and are unconscious.
Of course it may take some time to make ourselves willing to submit
to an unusual noise if we have the habit of feeling that we must
necessarily be disturbed by it, and, if we can stop the noise, it is
better to stop it than to give ourselves unnecessary tasks in
Then again, if we are overtired, our brains are sometimes so
sensitive that the effect of any noise is like that of being struck
in a sore spot, and then it is much more difficult to bear it, and
we can only make the suffering a little less by yielding and being
willing that it should go on. I cannot go to sleep while some one is
knocking my lame arm, nor can I go to sleep while a noise is hitting
my tired brain; but in such cases we can give up expecting to go to
sleep, and get a great deal of rest by using our wills steadily not
to resist; and sometimes, even then, sleep will come upon us
With regard to the use of the will, perhaps the most dangerous
pitfall to be avoided is the use of drugs. It is not too much to say
that they never should be used at all for cases of pure
sleeplessness, for with time their power to bring sleep gradually
becomes exhausted, and then the patient finds himself worse off than
before, for the reactionary effect of the drugs leaves him with
exhausted nerves and a weakened will. All the strengthening, moral
effect which can be gained from overcoming sleeplessness in
wholesome ways is lost by a recourse to drugs, and character is
weakened instead of strengthened.
When one has been in the habit of sleeping in the city, where the
noise of the street is incessant, a change to the perfect silence of
the country will often keep sleep off quite as persistently as
noise. So with a man who has been in the habit of sleeping under
other abnormal conditions, the change to normal conditions will
sometimes keep him awake until he has adjusted himself to them, and
it is not uncommon for people to be so abnormal that they resist
rhythm itself, such as is heard in the rolling of the sea, or the
rushing of a river.
The re-adjustment from abnormal to normal conditions of sleeping may
be made surely if we set about it with a will, for we have all
nature on our side. Silence is orderly for the night's rest, and
rhythm only emphasizes and enhances the silence, when it is the
rhythm of nature.
The habit of resistance cannot be changed in a single day--it must
take time; but if the meaning, the help, and the normal power of
non-resistance is clearly understood, and the effort to gain it is
persistent, not only the power to sleep, but a new sense of freedom
may be acquired which is quite beyond the conception of those who
are in the daily habit of resistance.
When we lie down at night and become conscious that our arms and our
legs and our whole bodies are resting heavily upon the bed, we are
letting go all the resistance which has been left stored in our
muscles from the activities of the day.
A cat, when she lies down, lets go all resistance at once, because
she moves with the least possible effort; but there are very few men
who do that, and so men go to their rest with more or less
resistance stored in their bodies, and they must go through a
conscious process of dropping it before they can settle to sleep as
a normal child does, without having to think about how it is done.
The conscious process, however, brings a quiet, conscious joy in the
rest, which opens the mind to soothing influences, and brings a more
profound refreshment than is given even to the child--and with the
refreshment new power for work.
One word more about outside disturbances before we turn to those
interior ones which are by far the most common preventatives of
refreshing sleep. The reader will say: "How can I be willing that
the noise should go on when I am not willing?" The answer is, "If
you can see clearly that if you were willing, the noises would not
interfere with your sleep, then you can find the ability within you
to make yourself willing."
It is wonderful to realize the power we gain by compelling and
controlling our desires or aversions through the intelligent use of
the will, and it is easier to compel ourselves to do right against
temptation than to force ourselves to do wrong against a true
conviction. Indeed it is most difficult, if not impossible, to force
ourselves to do wrong against a strong sense of right. Behind an our
desires, aversions, and inclinations each one of us possesses a
capacity for a higher will, the exercise of which, on the side of
order and righteousness, brings into being the greatest power in
human life. The power of character is always in harmony with the
laws of truth and order, and although we must sometimes make a great
effort of the will to do right against our inclinations the ease of
such effort increases as the power of character increases, and
strength of will grows steadily by use, because it receives its life
from the eternal will and is finding its way to harmony with that.
It is the lower, selfish will that often keeps us awake by causing
An actor may have a difficult part to play, and feel that a great
deal depends upon his success. He stays awake with anxiety, and this
anxiety is nothing but resistance to the possibility of failure. The
first thing for him to do is to teach himself to be willing to fail.
If he becomes willing to fail, then all his anxiety will go, and he
will be able to sleep and get the rest and new life which he needs
in order to play the part well. If he is willing to fail, then all
the nervous force which before was being wasted in anxiety is set
free for use in the exercise of his art.
Looking forward to what is going to happen on the next day, or
within a few days, may cause so much anxiety as to keep us awake;
but if we have a good, clear sense of the futility of resistance,
whether our expected success or failure depends on ourselves or on
others, we can compel ourselves to a quiet willingness which will
make our brains quiet and receptive to restful sleep, and so enable
us to wake with new power for whatever task or pleasure may lie
Of course we are often kept awake by the sense of having done wrong.
In such cases the first thing to do is to make a free acknowledgment
to ourselves of the wrong we have done, and then to make up our
minds to do the right thing at once. That, if the wrong done is not
too serious, will put us to sleep; and if the next day we go about
our work remembering the lesson we have learned, we probably will
have little trouble in sleeping.
If Macbeth had had the truth and courage to tell Lady Macbeth that
both he and she were wicked plotters and murderers, and that he
intended, for his part, to stop being a scoundrel, and, if he had
persisted in carrying out his good intentions, he would never have
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