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Rest In Sleep
Source: Power Through Repose
HOW do we misuse our nervous force? First, let us consider, When
should the body be completely at rest? The longest and most perfect
rest should be during sleep at night. In sleep we can accomplish
nothing in the way of voluntary activity either of mind or body. Any
nervous or muscular effort during sleep is not only useless but
worse,--it is pure waste of fuel, and results in direct and
irreparable harm. Realizing fully that sleep is meant for rest, that
the only gain is rest, and that new power for use comes as a
consequence,--how absurd it seems that we do not abandon ourselves
completely to gaining all that Nature would give us through sleep.
Suppose, instead of eating our dinner, we should throw the food out
of the window, give it to the dogs, do anything with it but what
Nature meant we should, and then wonder why we were not nourished,
and why we suffered from faintness and want of strength. It would be
no more senseless than the way in which most of us try to sleep now,
and then wonder why we are not better rested from eight hours in
bed. Only this matter of fatiguing sleep has crept upon us so slowly
that we are blind to it. We disobey mechanically all the laws of
Nature in sleep, simple as they are, and are so blinded by our own
immediate and personal interests, that the habit of not resting when
we sleep has grown to such an extent that to return to natural
sleep, we must think, study, and practise.
Few who pretend to rest give up entirely to the bed, a dead
weight,--letting the bed hold them, instead of trying to hold
themselves on the bed. Watch, and unless you are an exceptional case
(of which happily there are a few), you will be surprised to see how
you are holding yourself on the bed, with tense muscles, if not all
over, so nearly all over that a little more tension would hardly
increase the fatigue with which you are working yourself to sleep.
The spine seems to be the central point of tension--it does not
_give_ to the bed and rest there easily from end to end; it touches
at each end and just so far along from each end as the man or woman
who is holding it will permit. The knees are drawn up, the muscles
of the legs tense, the hands and arms contracted, and the fingers
clinched, either holding the pillow or themselves.
The head, instead of letting the pillow have its full weight, holds
itself onto the pillow. The tongue cleaves to the roof of the mouth,
the throat muscles are contracted, and the muscles of the face drawn
up in one way or another.
This seems like a list of horrors, somewhat exaggerated when we
realize that it is of sleep, "Tired Nature's sweet restorer," that
we are speaking; but indeed it is only too true.
Of course cases are not in the majority where the being supposed to
enjoy repose is using _all_ these numerous possibilities of
contraction. But there are very few who have not, unconsciously,
some one or two or half-dozen nervous and muscular strains; and even
after they become conscious of the useless contractions, it takes
time and watchfulness and patience to relax out of them, the habit
so grows upon us. One would think that even though we go to sleep in
a tense way, after being once soundly off Nature could gain the
advantage over us, and relax the muscles in spite of ourselves; but
the habits of inheritance and of years are too much for her.
Although she is so constantly gracious and kind, she cannot go out
of her way, and we cannot ask her to do so.
How simple it seems to sleep in the right way; and how wholesome it
is even to think about it, in contrast to the wrong way into which
so many of us have fallen. If we once see clearly the great
compensation in getting back to the only way of gaining restful
sleep, the process is very simple, although because we were so far
out of the right path it often seems slow. But once gained, or even
partially gained, one great enemy to healthful, natural nerves is
conquered, and has no possibility of power.
Of course the mind and its rapid and misdirected working is a strong
preventive of free nerves, relaxed muscles, and natural sleep. "If I
could only stop myself from thinking" is a complaint often heard,
and reason or philosophy does not seem to touch it. Even the certain
knowledge that nothing is gained by this rapid thought at the wrong
time, that very much is lost, makes no impression on the overwrought
mind,--often even excites it more, which proves that the trouble, if
originally mental, has now gained such a hold upon the physique that
it must be attacked there first. The nerves should be trained to
enable the body to be an obedient servant to a healthy mind, and the
mind in giving its attention to such training gains in normal power
If you cannot stop thinking, do not try; let your thoughts steam
ahead if they will. Only relax your muscles, and as the attention is
more and more fixed on the interesting process of letting-go of the
muscles (interesting, simply because the end is so well worth
gaining), the imps of thought find less and less to take hold of,
and the machinery in the head must stop its senseless working,
because the mind which allowed it to work has applied itself to
something worth accomplishing.
The body should also be at rest in necessary reclining in the day,
where of course all the laws of sleep apply. Five minutes of
complete rest in that way means greater gain than an hour or three
hours taken in the usual manner. I remember watching a woman
"resting" on a lounge, propped up with the downiest of pillows,
holding her head perfectly erect and in a strained position, when it
not only would have been easier to let it fall back on the pillow,
but it seemed impossible that she should not let it go; and yet
there it was, held erect with an evident strain. Hers is not an
unusual case, on the contrary quite a common one. Can we wonder that
the German doctor thought he had discovered a new disease? And must
he not be already surprised and shocked at the precocious growth of
the infant monster which he found and named? "So prone are mortals
to their own damnation, it seems as though a devil's use were gone."
There is no better way of learning to overcome these perversions in
sleep and similar forms of rest, than to study with careful thought
the sleep of a wholesome little child. Having gained the physical
freedom necessary to give perfect repose to the body, the quiet,
simple dropping of all thought and care can be made more easily
possible. So we can approach again the natural sleep and enjoy
consciously the refreshment which through our own babyhood was the
unconscious means of giving us daily strength and power for growth.
To take the regular process, first let go of the muscles,--that will
enable us more easily to drop disturbing thoughts; and as we refuse,
without resistance, admittance to the thoughts, the freedom from
care for the time will follow, and the rest gained will enable us to
awaken with new life for cares to come. This, however, is a habit to
be established and thoughtfully cultivated; it cannot be acquired at
once. More will be said in future chapters as to the process of
gaining the habit.
Next: Other Forms Of Rest
Previous: Perversions In The Guidance Of The Body