Of all of nature’s functions that should be understood by people, sleep seems the one which should be so simple that no instruction or advice should be needed. The child needs no elaborate treatise upon the value and necessity of sleepâ€”it just sleeps, that’s all. And the adult would do the same if he lived closer to nature’s ways. But he has surrounded himself with such artificial environments that it is almost impossible for him to live naturally. But he may go a considerable distance on the return journey to nature, notwithstanding his unfavorable environments.
Of all the foolish practices that man has picked up on his travels away from nature, his habits of sleeping and rising are among the worst. He wastes in excitement and social pleasures the hours which nature has given him for his best sleep, and he sleeps over the hours in which nature has given him the greatest chance to absorb vitality and strength. The best sleep is that taken between the hours of sunset and midnight, and the best hours for out of door work and the absorbing of vitality are the first few hours after the sun rises. So we waste at both ends, and then wonder why we break down in middle-age or before.
During sleep nature does a great part of her repair work and it is highly important that she be given this opportunity. We will not attempt to lay down any rules about sleeping, as different people have different needs, and this chapter is merely given as a slight suggestion. Generally speaking, however, about eight hours is the normal demand of nature for sleep.
Always sleep in a well ventilated room, for reasons given in our chapter on fresh air. Place upon yourself enough bed-clothing to keep you comfortable, but do not bury yourself under the mass of heavy bedclothing that is common in so many familiesâ€”this is largely a matter of habit, and you will be surprised at how much less bed-clothing you can get along with than you have been using. Never sleep in any garments that you have worn during the day-this practice is neither healthy nor cleanly. Do not pile up too many pillows under your head-one small one is enough. Relax every muscle in the body, and take the tension off of every nerve, and learn to “loaf” in bed, and to cultivate “that lazy feeling” when you get under the covers. Train yourself not to think of the affairs of the day after you retire-make this an invariable rule and you will soon learn to sleep like the healthy child. Watch a child sleep, and what it does after going to bed, and endeavor to follow its plan as nearly as possible. Be a child when you go to bed, and endeavor to live over again the sensations of childhood, and you will sleep like the child-this one piece of advice is worthy of being printed alone in a handsomely bound book, for if followed we would have a race of greatly improved people.
If one has acquired an idea of the real nature of man, and his place in the universe, he will be more likely to drop into this childlike rest than will the average man or woman. He feels so perfectly at home in the universe, and has that calm confidence and trust in the overruling power, that he, like the child relaxes his body and takes the tension off his mind, and gradually drops off into a peaceful sleep.
We will not give here any special directions regarding the bringing on of sleep to people who have suffered with sleeplessness. We believe that if they will follow the plans for rational and natural living given in this book, they will sleep naturally, without any special advice. But it ‘nay be as well to give one or two bits of advice along this line, for the use of those “on the way.” Bathing the legs and feet in cool water, just before retiring, produces sleepiness. Concentrating the mind on the feet, has been a help to many, as it directs the circulation to the lower part of the body, and relieves the brain. But above all, do not try to go to sleepâ€”this is the worst thing in the world for one who really wishes to sleep, for it generally acts the other way. The better plan, if you think of it at all, is to assume the mental attitude that you do not care whether or not you sleep right offâ€”that you are perfectly relaxedâ€”are enjoying a good “loaf,” and are perfectly satisfied with things as they are. Imagine yourself a tired child, resting in a half-drowsy way, not fully asleep nor fully awake, and endeavor to act out this suggestion. Do not bother about later in the night, and whether or not you will sleep thenâ€”just live in that particular moment, and enjoy your “loaf.”
The exercises given in the chapter on Relaxation will get you into the habit of relaxing at will, and those who have been troubled with sleeplessness, will find that they may acquire entirely new habits.
Now, we know that we cannot expect all of our students to go to bed like the child, and awaken early like the child or the farmer. We wish that this were possible, but we realize just what modern life, particularly in the large cities, requires of one. So all that we can ask our students to do is to try to live as closely to nature in this respect as possible. Avoid so far as you can, late hours and excitement at night, and whenever you get a chance, retire early and rise early. We realize, of course, that all this will interfere with what you have been taught to regard as “pleasure,” but we ask that in the midst of this co-called “pleasure” you take a little rest once in awhile. Sooner or later the race will return to more simple manners of living, and late hour dissipation will be regarded as we now regard the use of narcotics, drunkenness, etc. But in the meantime, all that we can say is “do the best you can for yourself.”
If you are able to get a little time off in the middle of the day, or other times, you will find that a half-hour’s relaxation, or even a little “snooze,” will do wonders toward refreshing you and enabling you to do better work when you arise. Many of our most successful business and professional men, have learned this secret, and many a time when they are reported as being “very busy for a half-hour” they are really lying on their couches, relaxing, breathing deeply, and giving nature a chance to recuperate. By alternating a little rest with one’s work, he will be able to do twice as good work as if he had worked without a break or rest. Think over these things a little, you people of the Western world, and you may be even more “strenuous” by varying your strenuosity by occasional relaxation and rest. A little “letting-go” helps one to take a fresh grip and to hold-on all the harder.