HOW TO SLEEP (Jun, 1953)

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By West F. Peterson

WHEN the talk at a recent New York cocktail party veered around to the subject of how to fall asleep, there were offered as many theories as there were guests.

“My system is sure-fire,” said an advertising man. “Just before going to bed I eat a tremendous slice of Bermuda onion. It lulls my brain and I drop off immediately. My wife benefits too. The fumes seem to knock her out and she’s asleep as soon as I am.”

A frilly young matron sniffed disdainfully. “Any doctor will tell you not to eat before you get in bed,” she said. “What I do is imagine I’m floating on a lovely pink cloud high above green pastures in which brown-and-white cows are grazing. It never fails.”

An accountant spoke up. “It’s natural for me to use a numerical method. Beginning at one thousand, I count backward. If I’m ‘ still awake when I get down to zero I know I’m in for a bad night so I go out to the living room and start reading a volume of the latest income tax laws.”

“That theory about not eating is the bunk!” declared a beefy broker with a challenging stare at the matron. “Every night I have a couple of sandwiches—liver-wurst-on-rye is best—and wash them down with two or three bottles of beer.”

The party cocktails emboldened a bride of six months to make her report. Looking at her husband for confirmation, she said, “Harry and I had some trouble, didn’t we, dear? He snored like a foghorn and kept rolling over to my side of the bed so that I had to cling to the very edge. . .”

“Fortunately,” the groom carried on for her, “we got expert advice at the Sleep Shop. Fellow named Norman Dine runs it, calls himself Public Sandman No. 1. He fixed me up with a whistling, snore ball, an anti-snore handcuff to keep me from sleeping on my back and a plastic gadget which discourages mouth-breathing. Then we bought a modern bundling bed; there’s a firm strip down the center of the mattress which keep me from rolling over onto Felice’s side.”

“There’s nothing like a three-mile hike just before you turn in,” suggested a former football star. “Either that, or setting-up exercises in front of an open window.” Other “How to Sleep” formulas came thick and fast over the cocktails: a tepid bath, an alcoholic nightcap, eye shades and ear plugs, rolling the eyeballs, staring at TV or an aquarium full of tropical fish, thought-control, reading detective stories, doing cross-word puzzles, massage, soft music or “psychosonic” phonograph records, concentrating on some pleasurable experience out of the past such as a fishing trip or a golf game, even sheep-counting.

The most confirmed insomniac of all stared at his fellow guests mournfully from deep-circled eyes.

“None of those mild techniques do me any good,” he lamented. “I’ve got to eat sleeping pills like candy!”

The party which turned into a forum on slumber might have taken place in Kansas City or Walla Walla instead of Manhattan. Due to the stepped-up tempo of 1953 living and worries over war, taxes and inflation, millions of Americans from Bangor to San Diego are plagued by somnological problems. The ranks of the wakeful, according to surveys, are swelling daily.

It was not by mere chance that Congress had to enact the Durham-Humphrey bill clamping a nation-wide ban on the sale of barbiturates and other dangerous sleep-inducing drugs except when prescribed by physicians.

No wonder sleep is a favorite topic of conversation. And since everyone indulges in it, everyone considers himself something of an authority on the subject! Amateur slumber advice is dispensed everywhere as eagerly as highway directions are shouted at a befuddled motorist in a crossroads hamlet.

But what do the experts say?

In preparing this article, the writer talked to doctors, psychologists and specialists like Norman Dine. The hints they gave may help guide you to better sleeping and therefore to more effective living.

A good night’s sleep is an essential tonic, a rejuvenator. As you slumber there is less blood in your brain, body temperature and metabolism drop and the pulse and rate of breathing slow down. The key to successful sleep is complete relaxation.

Sleep requirements and habits, the experts point out, vary greatly according to the individual. Some people can get along on four or five hours a night, others need ten and even 12. The average is about eight.

Every person troubled by wakefulness develops a method of courting slumber best suited to his temperament as indicated by the talk at the cocktail party. Most folks like beds but a few swear that a bare floor is better for repose. There are classic examples of soldiers sleeping as they marched or rode in the saddle.

If you are inclined to be a somno-hypochondriac, you should remember that there has never been a case of insomnia which resulted fatally. Nor is there any truth in the old wives’ tale that continued lack of sleep can drive you crazy.

Men in battle or subject to other stress have gone 72 hours and more without so much as a catnap and suffered no lasting ill effects. Conversely, there are instances of Rip Van Winkles who have slept two or three days at a stretch. If you toss and turn, it does not mean that you aren’t slumbering soundly. The average healthy person changes position 20 to 30 times a night.

Men generally require more sleep than women. Thomas Edison was a notable exception; he could get along indefinitely on four hours a night. The inventor cheated a bit by taking brief naps in his laboratory.

Most experts frown upon naps. If you feel you must have them, it’s best to fit them in before lunch or dinner, not after.

Drowsiness doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t getting enough sleep. It may be due to habit (becoming heavy-lidded at a certain hour each day), it can be caused by boredom, or in some cases it must be ascribed to physiological malfunction.

For the average person fighting dat ol’ debbil insomnia the specialists are pretty well agreed on the following basic prescriptions:

Cut out coffee at the noon and evening meals, as caffein tends to over-stimulate the nervous system.

Alcohol in excess also should be avoided. For some persons a glass of beer or wine or a single highball may be beneficial before retiring, but no more than that.

If you eat at all at bedtime, eat sparingly of light, easily digestible foods. Anything heavy, like the liverwurst-on-rye cited by the broker at the party, encourages nightmares.

Practice regularity in your daily schedule of living.

Use tobacco sparingly, particularly during the evening.

If you are a sedentary worker tied to an office desk all day, do something which will send you to bed physically tired but not overtired. Take a nocturnal stroll as Abe Lincoln often did, or practice calisthenics.

Be sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, well-ventilated and that it is predominantly of a restful color such as green.

Wear night clothing that doesn’t bind you. Old-fashioned nightgowns are good. Pajama tops are better than the complete pajamas. Best of all, sleep stark naked. For years a certain Hollywood columnist has been tattling on screen beauties who follow the latter practice. Sandman Dine made a survey some time ago which indicated that more than one-third of U.S. women and one-fourth of the men hit the hay in the raw.

A tepid bath often encourages sleep. So does stamp collecting, wood-working or any other hobby which will take your mind off the day’s business.

If you read in bed, have a good light and pick boring literature rather than exciting.

Be certain your bed is the best you can afford, sufficiently large, healthfully firm, preferably single and tailored to any peculiar requirements you may have. Your sleep problem may be solved entirely by the latest innovations in bedding and its adjuncts.

Finally, DON’T WORRY. Instead of lying tense and fretting about money, health, or possibly the safety of a son fighting in Korea, exercise thought-control to direct your mind into more somnolent channels.

About sleeping pills, usually barbiturates, the consumption of which will hit a new all-time high this year, there is a sharp division of opinion. Some doctors interviewed in our survey declared it was perfectly safe to use them temporarily and under proper supervision. Other medics took a four-square stand against them, claiming it’s better for an insomniac to lie awake all night than to resort to sedation.

Dormison—sold in the form of large, liquid-filled capsules—reputedly gives the user quick, sound slumber and yet there is no morning hangover resembling barbiturate grogginess. It is said not to be habit-forming. If the stuff lives up to its notices it will prove a real boon to countless insomnia victims.

Speaking of boons to the wakeful, there are plenty of them available at Norman Dine’s Sleep Shop in the New York hardware specialty store of Lewis & Conger. Besides catering to harried dwellers of the metropolis, the shop does a substantial mail-order business over the nation.

The whistling snore ball, mentioned by the bridegroom at the cocktail party, is but one out of scores of Morpheus-aimed gadgets. This device is pinned on the sleeper’s pajamas. When he rolls on his back—the position most conducive to snoring—the ball makes him uncomfortable and lets out a squeal, thus forcing him to lie on his side again.

The anti-snore handcuff which tethers one wrist to the edge of the bed has the same objective—to keep the sleeper resting quietly on his side. There’s also an anti-snore mask which holds the mouth shut.

Expert Dine, who has made a career out of helping insomniacs, wages ceaseless war upon bedroom noise and light. The sleeping chamber, in his opinion, should be a refuge from both.

The simplest gadgets insuring quiet and darkness, of course, are ear plugs and eye shades. There is one model of the latter equipped with peepholes—for sleepers who are extra-prudent or who are victims of claustrophobia.

On a larger scale, Dine recommends insulated walls and ceilings, heavy drapes, carpeting of the entire floor area and a device known as the Unique Windo-Aire Silencer.

Your neighbors disturb you? At the Sleep Shop you can get cards to pass along to them beseeching them in verse to tune down the radio, mute the pets and “conduct your revels

on softer levels.”

There are all sorts of comforts for those who read in bed. One is a pair of prismatic eyeglasses which enables the wearer to lie with his head flat on the pillow and scan a book held on his tummy. There are radios which are heard through a pillow and are inaudible to a person in an adjoining bed, combination lamp-music boxes that fade from brightness into total darkness while tinkling Brahms’ Lullaby, phonograph records which hum monotonously and other records which “talk” you into somnolence.

Dine and his aides sell special pillows for those who like to lie on their stomachs, moisture-resistant pillows for heartbroken ladies who cry themselves to sleep, horseshoe-shaped pillows to be worn around the neck by people who roll to and fro and “tuck-in” pillows to support the knees.

If you wouldn’t lie awake worrying about how much the thing cost, the Pulsating Relaxer might help you. “Place it under the mattress and it sends gentle pulsations that ease the tension in the tout body of the insomniac.” Of course the Sleep Shop carries all makes of electric, thermostatically-controlled blankets, sheets and bed pads which guarantee constant temperature through the long, cold winter nights. One blanket has two controls so His side can remain cooler than Hers, or vice versa. Thus science has solved one source of irritation that can lead to insomnia in married life.

The modern bundling bed is only one of many unique types of slumber furniture at the shop. Another is the Jack Spratt bed, soft on one side for Her, firm on the other for Him. And if you object to sleeping on a strictly horizontal plane, you can buy elevating boards to raise either your head or your feet. There are even crumbless crackers for those who like to eat while under the covers.

Oddly enough, helping to usher people into Slumberland is a high-pressure, nerve-frazzling business. After watching Sandman Dine issue commands to his staff, answer ever-jangling telephones and give his personal attention to customers with the knottiest problems, the interviewer queried, “How is your nighttime behavior?”

“I’ve got to sleep well,” was the moody reply, “It’s in my contract. If Norman Dine ever suffered from insomnia it would give the Sleep Shop an awful black eye!”

  1. Blurgle says: September 22, 200710:04 am

    “My system is sure-fire,” said an advertising man. “Just before going to bed I eat a tremendous slice of Bermuda onion. It lulls my brain and I drop off immediately. My wife benefits too. The fumes seem to knock her out and she’s asleep as soon as I am.”

    Living with him must be magic.

  2. Village Idiot says: October 4, 20077:03 am

    Wow, I never knew that falling asleep was so hard. I just lay in bed and try to stay awake. Works great!

    Of course so do barbiturates, a “highball,” or both!

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