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The Wet Compress
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Source: Papers On Health
In search of sleep men do many things both dangerous
and foolish--sometimes even fatal. Sleeplessness arises in so many ways
and from so many causes, that it is often hard for the patient to find
a cure, and he will try anything in desperation. A little thought
should prevent this state of mind. For instance, we have a man who
tries to get sleep by fatiguing himself by long walks in the open air
or hard physical work of some kind, but he only grows worse. Now, a
little thought will show that sleep requires a certain amount of brain
energy. If the supply be below this amount, the brain is too tired to
sleep. Violent exercise of any kind will only make matters worse. So
"keeping people awake" all day is tried, to make them sleep at night.
It fails from the same reason--that it reduces brain power. All
narcotics in the end fail similarly. There comes a time when they have
so reduced brain power, that even an enormous dose fails to give sleep,
and the patient comes dangerously near poisoning himself--sometimes,
indeed, does so outright. In all these cases, that which has worn down
the brain must be given up as a first condition of cure. Whether
brain work, over-excitement and dissipation, alcohol or tobacco, the
cause must be removed, and rest taken in the open air, or in well
This done, we come to treatment. Soaping the head (see Head,
Soaping), or even the application of towels wrung out of cold water,
will often, when the cause has been removed, do all that is needed to
give sleep. These remedies, especially the first, should be at once
applied, if the sleeplessness is accompanied, as is usual, with heat
in the head. Even where the fevered head is connected with
indigestion, the stomach will be powerfully helped by a good soaping of
the head at bedtime. If, on the contrary, the head is cold, then warm
fomentations to it will be the proper treatment. Perhaps the very best
guide will be to aim at what will make both head and feet perfectly
comfortable, and both of natural heat. If cold, the feet must be
bathed or fomented, and the legs also up to the knees. Sometimes the
pouring of warm water in a douche over the head will act perfectly,
instead of the fomentation; but pouring cold water must be avoided,
or only very cautiously resorted to (see Sitz-Bath and Restlessness).
Sometimes sleeplessness proceeds from the use of bad drinking water,
through its effect on the stomach and bowels. In this case, of course,
the first thing is to see that no bad water is drunk. People cannot be
too careful about a water supply. Usually boiling for half-an-hour
renders water safe enough, but this is not always the case. Care must
then be taken to see that water from any corrupted source is not used.
When it is given up, treatment as above may be applied.
If the sleeplessness be caused by a nasty tickling cough, put a BRAN
POULTICE (see), or similar FOMENTATION (see) on the back behind
where the cough catches. Then change cold towels in front over the
same place. Soap the head, and sleep will probably soon come.
Where palpitation of the heart causes sleeplessness, change cold towels
over the heart, fomenting the feet if necessary, and the palpitation
will usually soon yield. See Brain; Children's Sleep; Exercise; Head;