The maddening tempo of modern life, with its suicidal flight from nature, has produced a 21st century plague. One ailment, known only to few members of past civilizations, has become a common and constant disorder in the 21st century. Even today, among less complex civilizations, Eskimoes, Africans, Pacific Islanders, insomnia is almost unknown. But in Great Britain and other apparently civilized countries many thousands of prescriptions for sleeping-pills are written out annually by doctors. Many other types of pills, too, are swallowed by the patients who consult them privately or under the National Health Service. The result is that the manufacture of such drugs has become a major industry catering for the public’s need of “something to take” to relieve its distress. Unfortunately in some cases this quick relief is abused and in an overdose of pills some patients find a quick way of escape from the miseries of their existence.
No pill has ever cured insomnia. No powder, capsule or tonic has ever brought permanent relief. Yes, sleep can be induced through drugs. Have you ever slept the sleep of the drugged? It is like having bought a small share of death. To awaken from it once is frequently a ghastly enough experience to turn you against the use of such drugs for ever. The dizzy, choking, numbing sensation that occurs to the awakening drugged sleeper is undoubtedly among the most horrifying of all human experiences. I cannot warn too severely against such devices.
The fact remains that only a natural existence can bring permanent relief from this modern plague. Insomnia is one of the many payments that modern man makes daily for his rejection of an existence in harmony with the laws of nature. A return to that existence is the only completely successful means of eliminating insomnia I have ever seen practiced.
Insomnia is not a disease. It is either a reaction or accompanying symptom of disease, or it is the culmination of repeated shocks and mistreatment of the nervous system. Sleep requires relaxation. Drugs are used to induce relaxation where the nervous system will not respond to the effects of even prolonged fatigue. This unnatural means of instituting relaxation is a crutch and nothing more. Even were it not for the harmful effect of drugs, the fact of their worthlessness in producing permanent relief would be reason enough to reject their use. Only relaxation in response to fatigue can produce natural slumber.
The importance of wholesome sleep is known to all. Notice the use of the term “wholesome”. There are many kinds of sleep and the value derived from them is in direct relation to the quality of the sleep, not the quantity. I have myself slept four hours of good and completely relaxing sleep and felt more refreshed upon rising than on other mornings after eight hours of restless slumber. I am certain that you have had similar experiences.
Insomnia can be divided into two categories, temporary and prolonged. Prolonged insomnia is almost always the result of unhappiness, restlessness, a feeling of being out of step or out of place in the world. In prolonged insomnia, this restless and unhappy state can be called the disease and sleeplessness only a symptom of that condition.
The return of mind and body to a state of oneness with the world, recognizing the pattern of the world and understanding your place within that pattern, this is the road to defeating the cause of prolonged insomnia. The chronic insomniac generally recognizes his or her restlessness through signs other than prolonged lack of sleep. But recognizing this condition will not defeat it. Knowledge itself changes nothing. Only the application of knowledge can bring change. If you are a chronic insomniac, stop saying “That’s the way I am and that’s all there is to it.”
Temporary insomnia is a common and dangerous condition. The causes of a night or two of restlessness are many and the degree of each cause necessary to produce a sleepless night varies with the individual. Night noises, the screech and howl of a cat, traffic sounds, the wind, or even the dripping of a tap may produce insomnia in some, while others are able to sleep through constant din and tumult. This is largely a matter of early conditioning. Children are natural sleepers and can condition themselves to sleep under any conditions. If as a child you learned to sleep through noisy night atmospheres, you will not be bothered by common sounds. Those who have not been so conditioned can overcome a single night of disturbing sounds through the use of ear plugs, made of a waxy substance that will not harm the ears, which can be purchased at most chemists. Night masks, shields of black cloth, can also be purchased and will prove useful in avoiding annoying rays of light.
If your sleeplessness arises from a change in environment, a new and temporary atmosphere such as a holiday hotel, a railway train, etc., then mechanical devices for sleep such as the mask and ear plugs are perfectly valid. But I strongly warn against the use of such devices night after might in your home. These, like the sleeping-pills, become crutches without which sleep is impossible. What must be realized is that if you are unable to withstand the background noises and light of your natural sleeping environment, your home, then it is neither the noise nor the light which actually is the source of your insomnia. Rather, a condition of tension producing over-sensitivity to such ordinarily unnoticed things is the true cause. Again the answer to such insomnia is not sleeping devices, but what might be called a pact of friendship with the world.
Insomnia cannot be treated apart from other conditions of body and mind. Total health rules out insomnia. Therefore, strive for natural health and you will be on the road to relaxation and restful sleep. Begin now by prescribing the Fountain of Youth Cocktail for yourself daily.
Temporary insomnia, arising from momentary disturbances, is best treated in advance of bedtime. When you are aware that some disturbing happening, sight or news has unnerved you to the point where it may cost you a night’s sleep, that is the time to begin combating insomnia. Once you have gone to bed, it is difficult to stop the wheels of thought from turning; they must be slowed down before bedtime. This is best done with a programme of relaxation.
Your programme of relaxation should begin at least two hours before you retire for the night. In that period of two hours, it is important to avoid over-stimulation. Exactly how you do this depends upon your individual personality. If you find reading, games such as cards, draughts or chess, or listening to good music relax you, then you will have no difficulty filling most of your two-hour programme for relaxation. But if you tend towards stimulating reading, or if games and music excite you even moderately, then avoid them prior to bedtime. Most of all, avoid contact with work that fills your day. Don’t take your business to bed with you.
Half an hour before retiring, take a final walk in the open air. This is not meant to be the kind of brisk tour that best begins your day. Walk slowly, feel the cool kiss of wind upon your cheek, do a little star-counting. In other words, end your day by once more realizing your part in the great universe. Modest people seem to suffer less from sleeplessness.
When you return, prepare a warm drink for yourself. Hot milk used to be the insomniac’s favourite, but this was an error in judgement. The milk did not induce sleep, the warmth did. Hot lemonade or vegetable broth will have the same effect, and may be pleasanter for many. As important as the drink is the way you drink it. Sit down in a dimly lit corner of the house and relax over your nightcap. Gradually accustom yourself to the wonderful rest that lies before you that evening. Feel yourself relaxing as you sit there. This is a moment for recalling the pleasant experiences of your life. It is a moment for warm smiles.
If you have spent your pre-bedtime hours in relaxation the rest is quite simple. Just before retiring, prepare a warm stomach compress. A heating pad, with the control turned to its lowest point, will do as well. Place the pad or compress upon the centre of your body, from the lower half of the chest down to the hip bones. Since it is the gentle warmth that you want here and not necessarily the healing action of water, the heating pad will do this job conveniently.
Now it is time to put your body to sleep. Starting with the toes and working your way up through the body, concentrate on each segment of your physique. Feel them deaden into total relaxation one by one, toes, heels, ankles, calves, knees and so on along the length of your frame. Do not move from one area to another until you are certain that you have felt the total relaxation of the preceding area. The first time you attempt this it may take ten or fifteen minutes. The second or third time you will find your entire body quickly falling into a state, of restful repose. With this your programme of relaxation is complete. Sleep is yours.