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Chapter 25 Sleep as a Mental State, its Hygienic Value, and How to Induce It

Sleep may be characterized as an involuntary and passive state of the mind. The cerebrum, as we have shown above, is the organ of our voluntary life; the cerebellum of the involuntary vital movements and passive states of thought and affection. In a state of sleep the cerebrum is quiescent, and the cerebellum is the organ through which the physiological processes are carried on. Sleep is one of the most important remedial agencies in nature, and a knowledge of the laws that govern it, and by which we may induce it upon ourselves, is of sufficient practical value to justify us devoting this chapter to its consideration. It being a passive state of the muscles of voluntary motion, the no inconsiderable amount of vital force thus expended can be employed to increase the action of the involuntary processes.

In the period of childhood we spend much more time in sleep than in after-years, in old age much less than in the middle of our existcnce. This is one reason why the functions of the entire nutritive system are carried on with so much more vigor in the morning of our existence than in subsequent years. The state of somnolence facilitates the circulation of the blood and all the fluids of the system. This is owing to the withdrawal of the forces expended in our voluntary activities, and their employment in increasing the vigor of all the involuntary functions, and also to the usual position of the body in sleep. In wakefulness and in the upright position, the circulation of the nutritive fluids is opposed by their gravity, which tends to retard their flow. The horizontal position being that which diminishes their gravitating force the most, is one which is the most favorable to their circulation. The diminished action of the ganglionic nerves of motion and of sensation, affords an increased supply of cerebral stimulus to the excretory organs, and the waste worn- out particles are thrown off from the system in greater profusion than during our waking hours. These fill the atmosphere of the bedroom, so as to be more recognizable to our senses than they would be if we were confined for the same length of time in the same apartment while awake. Sleep is consequently peculiarly adapted to the relief of a dry and feverish state of the skin, and to all diseases whose secondary causes are found in a defective action of the excretory functions.

There is much of physiological truth in the reply of the disciples to the statement of Jesus that his friend Lazarus was asleep: “Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well.” The rabbins regarded sleep as one of the most important of the “six good symptoms” of disease. We feel convinced that in a great variety of pathological conditions, especially most cases of nervous debility, it will be found among the best of nature’s remedies. In the early stage of all febrile disorders, if the patient could induce upon himself a sound and normal sleep, it would prove the most efficient means of cure. But the sleep must be natural and not that resulting from the stupifying influence of narcotic drugs. There are those who have the power of commanding sleep at any time; and such are seldom diseased. It is their only resort in sickness. They sleep for any length of time, and when and where they please.

But is sleep under the control of our volitions? Not directly, but only indirectly so. It cannot be induced by the active or positive state of the will, but only by the passive or negative position of the volitive power. The more a nervous patient tries to sleep the less he feels of the somnolent influence. The effort to sleep is a voluntary state of the mind, while sleep is an involuntary and passive condition of both the brain and the soul. Any active volition is wakefulness. If we remove all obstacles to sleep, it becomes spontaneous, and steals over the excited mind and wearied powers, like the cooling breath of a summer evening, and we enter the pure and tranquil dreamland as softly as flowers close at set of sun. There is a powerful magnetic sympathy between the feet and the brain. If the feet are cold and negative, the head is pressed with an accumulation of the nervous and vital forces. Restore the circulation to the extremities, by immersing them in water below the temperature of the blood, rubbing them dry with the hand, and smiting them until they glow with vital heat. This relieves the brain of its congested condition and throws it into a state favorable to repose. But the back-brain with the left hand, also the back of the neck, so as to attract the cerebral force towards the cerebellum. Use your own hand or that of a sympathetic friend.

Avoid the intemperate use of tea and coffee. The former, by the semi-spiritual essence it contains, stimulates the fore-brain to action, which is the organ of voluntary thought, and sleep becomes difficult, and sometimes impossible under its influence. The latter acts upon the cerebral organ of voluntary motion, and its effects are equally unfavorable to sleep. Every article of food or drink tending to throw the mind or body into a positive state, should be avoided for the evening meal. Removing these hindrances, the induction upon ourselves of the state of somnolency, with its quieting, invigorating and restorative influences, will be easy. We will now proceed to unfold the laws by conformity to which, sleep may be self-induced at any time.

We shall have to avail ourselves of a principle previously stated and illustrated, that when the body is made to assume the attitude and condition that externally manifests any mental state, it spontaneously arises within us. This is the key to the whole mystery of going to sleep. Let the patient assume a reclining position, with the head but slightly elevated so a to bring it only a little above a level with the shoulders. Then elevate the ball of the eye, rolling it up as it is called, as if attempting to look toward the back brain. This inversion of the eve is its natural and fixed position in sleep, as is easy to prove by an examination of any person, who has passed from the realm of external consciousness to the dreamland. This upward and backward movement of the eye, which must not be too strained or artificial, inverts the action of the cerebrum, and suspends all active thought, terminates the voluntary states of the mind, which passes from the active to the passive state. The vital force of the cerebrum flows back to the cerebellum, and this, physiologically, is a state of sleep. The patient may not instantly become unconscious, and the mind may not immediately be withdrawn from the bodily senses, but he will soon sweetly lose himself to all external perceptions and surroundings, and be in the care of the angels, who, in a less sensuous age of the church, when it was animated by a higher spiritual life, and a more childlike faith, were supposed to guard our defenceless slumbers when the “Lord gave his beloved sleep.”

The great obstacle to sleep is a want of ability to suspend active thought. The best way of doing this is to put the brain into the inverted and quiescent state it exhibits in the passive mental condition that constitutes somnolence. Various methods have been employed to effect the necessary suspension of thought, such as counting, but they only change the direction of the thoughts. This may have its use in facilitating the process of going to sleep, but is not so much in harmony with nature as the course we have recommended above.

It is proper also to remark, before we leave this subject, that the respiration in sleep is different from that which accompanies intense and active thinking. In sound and healthy sleep the breathing is deep and full, calling into action the muscular coverings of the abdomen, while in abstract voluntary thinking, only the upper portion of the lungs is slightly moved. We have frequently had occasion to observe also, that when a person in passing into the magnetic coma or trance, he precedes his loss of external consciousness with a few deep inspirations. In inducing upon ourselves the mental state that constitutes the essential thing in sleep, we do well to imitate nature in this respect. We have known some who have resorted to nothing else but this, when they wished to counteract the tendency to prolonged wakefulness, and with them it was found uniformly successful. But this form of respiration need not be too artificial, but only such as is naturally produced by simply directing the thoughts to the frontal muscles. One object to be aimed at is the cessation from all active volitions. For sleep is only a natural, healthful, and temporary suspension of the functions of the two hemispheres of the cerebrum, which is the organ of the voluntary life of the mind and body. It is the natural rest or repose instituted by the Author of our being to restore the exhausted energies of both the inner and outer man. In this state of passivity and abstraction from the bodily senses, we become inhabitants, in a degree, of a better world, and recipients of elevating and purifying influences. So that sleep has its moral as well as hygienic uses. It is a mental state, that belongs to another world as well as this. It is one of the established means of mental progress, both here and hereafter.

The withdrawal of the mind from the bodily senses in sleep, takes place progressively, and may exist in different degrees. In its first stage it is called drowsiness. When this is habitual it is denominated lethargy. The senses become oblivious to impression from external things in a fixed order or succession. The sight ceases to receive impressions first. The sense of taste is the next to lose its susceptibility, and then the sense of smell. The hearing is the next in order, and last of all the sense of touch or feeling. In drowsiness, which in an incipient sleep, the eye becomes dull and heavy, and involunturily closes. To prevent the further progress of somnolence, persons are seen instinctively to rub the eyes, to take something into the mouth of strong taste, and to smell of something pungent, and if circumstances permit, to call into action the muscles of voluntary motion. For drowsiness or lethargy affects only the three senses mentioned above, together with the part of the cerebrum which the mind uses in voluntary motion. These three senses are the most external, and are at the outpost as sentinels. They are the most voluntary of the senses, and if sleep passes them, the others will soon surrender.

In inducing upon ourselves a state of sleep, let the eye be closed, and turned away from the light, as light will affect the eye even through the eye-lids. If inclined to wakefulness, the face should not be turned toward a window of the sleeping apartment. The mouth must be free from everything which can excite the sense of taste, and the atmosphere of the room must be free from all perfumes and the effluvia of medicine, and from anything that can affect the sense of smell. The invalid must be removed from all unpleasant noise or sounds that call excite the sensation of hearing. Though listening to certain agreeable and monotonous sounds, as the roaring of the wind in a forest, or the sound of distant music, facilitates the induction of sleep. It draws away the activity of the three senses, which are affected by drowsiness, and serves to induce that state. And lastly the body must be in an easy position, with as little weight of clothing as will serve to prevent the sensation of cold, and not enough to excite a sensation of heat. Observing these simple directions, in connection with those before given, there are few cases where natural and healthful sleep may not be self-induced.

It is proper to remark, that in awaking from sleep, the senses come to conscious activity in the inverted order in which they lose their susceptibility to impression.

The sense of touch first awakes, and that of sight last. Sometimes a slight touch will arouse a person, when our voice is unheeded by him.


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