The normal day may be considered divided into three equal parts – of eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation, and eight hours for sleep. Accordingly a person should spend at least one-third of life in sleep. To many people this seems a waste of time, and a great many do their utmost to change Nature’s demands and obtain as little sleep as possible. Some people seem to require a smaller amount of sleep than others, while some seem to require more than the averages. But if a person’s individual requirements are eight hours of sleep and less than this amount is obtained there will be a reckoning, soon or late.
Work and exercise, or even merely consciousness, produce a fatigue of the nervous system. Just what causes sleepfulness and the need for sleep is not positively known, so far as changes in the nervous system are concerned. One theory is that through fatigue, nerve-fibers become contracted and draw away from each other so that there is a break in the impulses which travel through them. In the course of sleep, these nerve-fibers again stretch out until their contact is completed, and when this has been perfect over the entire nervous system one awakens from sleep and needs no more sleep until a similar condition of broken impulses is created again.
Certain it is that one cannot keep vigorous and youthful with an insufficient amount of sleep. Sleep imparts vitality and resiliency to the mind and body as nothing else can. It is nature’s “sweat restorer,” knitting up “the raveled sleeve of care”. The loss of one night’s sleep is far more detrimental to the body than the omission of several meals. In fact, in most cases the latter results may result beneficially. It has been repeatedly called to our attention that Edison habitually slept only four hours or so at night. But it is well known that he had a cot in his laboratory where he would nap frequently during the day. However, he probably did get less sleep than many people require.
One of my friend’s years ago endeavored to see how long he could go without sleep. Instead of sleeping his usual eight hours the first night of the experiment, he slept seven; the next night he slept six hours; and then slept one hour less each night until he was not sleeping at all. At the end of about four days without sleep he found that he could not sleep, and for six months he was slowly coming back from an extreme nervous prostration.
It does not pay to see how little sleep one can get. One need not fear sleeping too much. Sometimes an individual may get more sleep than is good for him, but this is rare. There is a definite need for sleep when there is the ability to sleep. The object should be to secure enough sleep that one awakens refreshed, eager for the day’s activities, and fully aroused on a moment’s notice.
Nervous, high-strung individuals require somewhat more sleep than those who lead a placid, uneventful life – the slow-going, phlegmatic type. Children need more sleep than adults, and young adults more than those in middle life. In old age we may find the condition of either more sleep or less sleep being required. Since all physiological activities slowdown in old age, it is my opinion that there should be not only less sleep required but an inability to sleep long hours when one has reached old age. There is less wear and tear, hence less need for repair. When old people need much sleep it is because they continue to eat more than is required and are doped with the toxins of mal-assimilated foods and of toxemia generated in the intestinal tract and in every organ and cell of the body.
It is better to wear out than to rust out. We all can do more work than we actually do if we make up our minds to do so. There is such a thing as developing a “second wind” in a foot-race, and likewise in the race of life. One who does little mental or physical work seems to require as much sleep as the man who does a great deal. If a farmer comes to a great city, the noises and the excitement wear him out for the first few days. After that he no longer reacts as he did; he grows accustomed to it and becomes no longer tired and exhausted. He is living upon a higher plane of vitality, he lives more fully – yet he requires no more rest and sleep. He has tapped his reserve – which is what too many of us fail to do; we go along too much on one level. We all should strive to live more fully during our waking hours; and then we sleep more deeply and restfully at night without necessarily sleeping any longer.
Warm Hands and Feet – The extremities should be warm for getting to sleep promptly and for the best sleep. They may be warmed by suitable exercises or in warm water, or in cold water with friction, or with a hot-water bag or bottle or other suitable means of applying heat in the bed. When the extremities are cold the blood that they should have is circulating through the rest of the body, including the brain, and sleep is difficult or unrefreshing.
Air Bath – Often a complete air-bath before retiring induces more prompt and deeper, more refreshing sleep. The air-bath may be taken at nay season of the year. The colder the air the greater the relaxing effect in most cases after becoming warm in the bed, and this indices sound sleep.
Massage – Some cases of insomnia are benefited by massage. One should not depend upon this, however, if possible to avoid it because it is not uncommon for the body to get to depending upon it. Instead of massage, friction may be applied by oneself or by another.
A neutral bath often is much better than massage, and is easier to get away from in the future. Deep breathing exercises will have a good effect in many cases. Sometimes a long walk or a brisk shorter walk will induce sleep when seemingly nothing else will. A combination of a walk of moderate length with moderate deep breathing is one of the best sleep inducers.
Late Suppers – Often the sleep is disturbed or one finds it impossible to go to sleep because of a heavy dinner; but more often a full stomach upon retiring indices a “dead sleep” from which one awakens, as a rule, without a feeling of recuperation. In many instances, however, a glass of warm milk or a bowl of milk toast or something equally light will insure prompt sleep and sound recuperative sleep.
Position During Sleep – One should be able to sleep in any position. In fact, while asleep one possibly may assume every position possible for sleeping during the night. Physiologists have observed many people during sound sleep, and find that twenty minutes is about the maximum length of time one will hold a certain position. It is possible, however, to attempt to go to sleep within a few minutes after retiring regardless of the position they assume – and this is more nearly normal. What may be considered a normal position is lying on a “front corner” of the body – with the head slightly turned to one side. In this position a pillow is unnecessary or if used it should be very low.
Fresh air is necessary for complete recuperation during sleep, but there should be no air currents blowing over a person if at all sensitive to them. One is apt to dream more with any stimulation of the skin, or with any stimulation of the sense of hearing by unnecessary noises, or if the sense of sight through lights. The body should be warm, but not too warm; with enough covers of as light-weight material as possible, but no more than actually needed.
The mind should be inactive for quickest and best sleep. One must not forget that sleep results largely from boredom – hence our tendency to fall asleep during sermons or lectures. When we cease to be interested in life, we fall asleep. But when the mind is racing along like a mill stream we cannot do this. In such circumstances we should endeavor to make the mind as quiet and blank as possible by centering it on some uninteresting subject until sleep supervenes. One may imagine, with the eyes closed, a black curtain stretching as far as the eye can reach. Think of nothing else and try to see perfect black over the entire field of vision your mind should relax gradually and you should fall asleep.
If one awakens tired in the morning, unrefreshed, not desirous of facing the day, one may rest assured that he has not slept properly. It may be necessary to consider all the factors concerned with proper sleep and make adjustments according to the need. You must take care to remove any causes of wakefulness, and when these are removed, prompt, sound, recuperative sleep should result.