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How To Sleep Restfully

Categories: Uncategorized
Sources: 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 slee
. 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

simple means.

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

get rest.

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

interior disturbances.

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

before us.

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

"murdered sleep."