SLEEPY-TIME GAL! (Aug, 1941)
Been having trouble getting your shut-eye lately? Meet Martha Alden, of Pequot Mills, whose job is to find out exactly what it is that keeps you awake.
by Kip Blair
EVERY year hundreds of eye shades, thousands of ear plugs, and countless numbers of other sleep-producing gadgetsâ€”from weak tea to strong drinkâ€”are sold to insomniacs all over the country. Yet sheep are still counted over fences, dull books still are used to induce slumber, and Mrs. Jones still leans over the back hedge to tell Mrs. Smith that, so help her, she didn’t shut an eye all last night.
For sleepâ€”a natural and normal process for babies and savagesâ€”has become a highly involved and complicated science for most of our adult civilization, so complicated, in fact.
that a whole new profession has sprung up around itâ€”the science of teaching people to sleep. And, though Comedian Bob Benchley once made a movie short on the interesting subject of “How to Sleep,” he is not the Einstein of this new science. The leading authority on Morpheus is young and attractive Martha Alden, of Pequot Mills.
Miss Alden, whose clear eye assures you instantly that she clicked off a full eight hours last night, knows almost all there is to know about what keeps you awake. And, if you’ve ever thought about the matter, you’ll realize that, of all man’s bodily functions, sleep is probably the most mysterious. Consider, for example, the famous story of the man at the opera. It was a rousing performance, full of knives, gunfire and general shenanigansâ€”but right in the middle of it all our hero fell asleep. In a jiffy, he was dreaming about knives and gunfire, and before he could awaken, he dreamed his neck was on the block and he was about to be beheaded. At that point, however, his wifeâ€”in the next seatâ€” tapped him on the back of the neck to make him come to and pay attention to the pretty singing.
But the fellow never awokeâ€”he was dead. The tap on the back of the neck, at the exact moment he was dreaming that an axe was falling there, killed him instantly!
The gag, of course, is that such a thing never could have happened; becauseâ€”if the man died without ever awakingâ€”no One would have had the faintest idea of what he was dreaming!
That’s the way it is with sleep. It’s a simple thing, yet it’s so insidious. All over the world people are going blissfully to bed and giving themselves trustfully into the bonds of slumber. Yet few of them question the procedure. Few ever bother to wonder what the chances are of their waking again, or what becomes of their reason during their sleeping moments.
These are some of the things about sleep that fascinate Martha Alden.
Miss Alden didn’t start off to be a Sleep Consultant. She grew up in Indiana, went to the state university, and eventually was graduated and set out for the merry round of New York’s employment agencies. It was her first job that started her on the way toward becoming an authority on sleepâ€”she obtained a position as a lecturer. The Pequot people hired her to talk to various groups of housewives on the subject of home economics. But it wasn’t that folks fell asleep in droves while she was talking that gave Miss Alden her idea; she managed to keep her audience thoroughly awake at all times. It was the fact that peopleâ€”knowing she worked for a sheet manufacturerâ€”figured she ought to know all there was to know about sleep. Accordingly they all wrote to her when they began staying awake nights and, almost before she knew it, Miss Alden was the nation’s first sleep consultant.
A new science was born!
There are any number of reasons why people suffer from sleeplessness, Miss Alden finds. Most of them are pretty obvious, but though Miss Alden claims to have studied the subject in medical schools and colleges, in laboratories, with psychiatrists and neurologists, and even in libraries, she claims she never ran across the reason alleged to have been given by the fellow in the joke. This chap suffered from insomnia, and when he went to the doctor and had a lot of tests made, the medical men finally found his trouble.
“You’re a worrier,” they told him. “That’s what keeps you awake. Now, tell usâ€”what is it you worry about?”
“Why,” the fellow said, “about staying awake, of course!”
Actually, the causes of insomnia are not quite so amusing. Miss Alden finds that everyone has an occasional sleepless night, and no one should start to worry unless sheep-counting becomes a habit. Ill health will disturb your slumbers, she says, quicker than anything else, and any doctor usually can find the trouble pretty quickly if it has to do with your general physical condition. Double beds, beds that are too short, and beds that are too narrow, will bring on wakefulness. The wrong kind of mattress will do it. too, and so will poorly selected and poorly arranged bed-linen and blankets, noise (your ears never sleep!), bad food, improper digestion, lack of exercise, and, yes, worry. Miss Alden has studied them all in her laboratory and, in her own, thoroughly efficient, Hoosier way, has come up with some very practical remedies. For a girl in her late twenties, she knows a large amount about this middle and old age ailment.
On the subject of noise, Miss Alden’s lore is particularly voluminous. Ear plugs and other mechanical devices, she has discovered, are not particularly effective in warding off noise, for the simple reason that the users of such gadgets are made to think they aren’t going to be able to sleep, even before they ‘ get into bed. Drugs, too, aren’t worth a hoot.
Speaking of noise, there was one chap who came to Miss Alden complaining he was having the dickens of a time getting to sleep. It was particularly bad in his case, he explained, because he was a professional fighter and needed lots of beddy-bye. To make sure he obtained plenty, he said, he had taken an apartment in the back of the house, far away from street noises, and where the only sound possible was the tread of a cat walking stealthily across the lawn.
The trouble was, though, every cat that walked across the lawn woke him up!
“His difficulty was that he had overdone the precautions,” Miss Alden explained. “He worried about his sleep, in the first place, and, to make sure of resting undisturbed, he had moved his bed to a spot where the very stillness woke him up. As a result, if someone so much as whispered outside his window, he was awake, and a slammed door, an article dropped on the floor, or a bird chirping in a tree would rouse him with a start.”
In this chap’s case, Miss Alden was able to correct the condition by moving him to a bedroom where his ears were assailed at all times by regular, uninterrupted noisesâ€”all night traffic, the roar of a waterfall or the babbling of a brook. After one or two difficult nights, his system became accustomed to the regularity of this new racket, and he slept peacefully from that time on. Now, the only thing that will waken him is a noise much louder than the normal ones to which his body is accustomed.
“It’s just the old story, put to a real use,” Miss Alden said, “of the fellow who slept next to a pile driverâ€”and when the pile driver stopped, suddenly one day, and everything became quiet, he leaped from his bed shouting ‘What’s that?’”
The comely Miss Alden has a fixed set of rules for non-sleepers whose difficulty is something else than physical, and if you spend your nights listening to the clock striking, you might like to try a few of them:
1â€”Use a vertically-coiled spring mattress six inches longer than the sleeper.
2â€”Use long-wearing, extra-length sheets and blankets that do not bind.
3â€”Completely remake beds every day.
4â€”Wear light-weight, loose-fitting night clothes.
5â€”Decorate bedrooms in restful colors and with furniture having neat, clean-cut lines.
6â€”Obtain adequate ventilation.
7â€”Watch your diet.
8â€”Get plenty of exercise.
9â€”Leave your worries at the office or shop. 10â€”Keep good hours.
For more restful nights, the sleep consultant suggests a mattress that measures at least six inches longer than you do. It should be at least thirty-nine inches wide and should be single. Double beds, she claims, are dual menaces to health and sleep. Through experiments, Miss Alden has discovered that vertically-coiled springs topped by an inner spring mattress are best. They help you to secure perfect muscular relaxation by keeping the spine straight and the muscles on either side at an equal degree of tension. Be sure to turn your mattress top to bottom at least twice a week, she cautions, so that it won’t develop sleep-marring hills and dales. And for best wear, blanket the top of it with a quilted bed pad.
No less important to your sleep are bedlinens. They should be firm, strong and even. They should have durability balanced with soft smooth texture. They should be long wearing, for worn out sheets can result in restless hours. Actual tests made by the United States Testing Laboratories, which Miss Alden witnessed, proved that high count, heavy muslins are the most practical and satisfactory. Percale sheets, for those who wish to spend more, are excellent.
The covers also should not bind you in as if you were an Indian papoose, Miss Alden says. They should be wide enough to keep you warm and to hang freely at the sides of the bed. Any constriction will act as an irritant even if you are totally unconscious of it at the time. Two light-weight blankets are better than one heavy one for warmth. Old fashioned down quilts are more decorative than effective.
Beds should be made every day. Slithering like a serpent from under the covers and then swiftly patting them into place won’t banish those sleep-cheating rumples and creases. Though it may take a few minutes longer, bed clothes should be bravely stripped right down to the mattress and then laid fresh again.
Nightclothes, Miss Alden goes on to mention, should be loose and comfortable. Pajamas usually should be taken a size larger and nightgowns should combine beauty with comfort, instead of beauty alone. Light weight cottons and pure silks are best for fabrics. Footed flannels should be reserved for Polar expeditions, and, if you can do it, try sleeping in the nude.
But Miss Alden’s advice on sleep and physical comfort doesn’t end with beds and clothes. Even your bedroom should be dedicated to increasing your sleep. It should be done in restful colors and all flamboyant effects should be reserved for other rooms in the house. If your room boasts wall paper be sure its pattern is graceful and rhythmical with quieting horizontal rather than wakening vertical lines. Incidentally, many types of modern furniture, Miss Alden finds, are designed with this horizontal feeling in mind, and are therefore particularly adaptable to the sleeping quarters. Regardless of what kind of furniture is used, however, it should concentrate on clean-cut lines and neat trims. Cluttered effects can induce wakefulness just as easily as untidy rooms.
If you have cross ventilation it will be easy for you to secure good air circulation. In any case, try to keep the air moving slightly. Opening the windows top and bottom is one way of doing this. Keeping the door slightly ajar is anotherâ€”but beware of drafts!
Most people wonder whether a glass of warm milk, a few crackers, or some other kind of recommended snack will help them doze off at night. But, according to Miss Alden, it isn’t the eating at night that influences sleep; it’s the eating during the day that really counts. About 50% of the poor sleepers in this country suffer from digestive troubles, she said. Well balanced diets are musts for peaceful meetings with the sandman.
To improve your nights, better your days, is the credo of Martha Alden. Try to arrange each day so that you can leave your work, mentally as well as physically, at the office. Don’t take your worries and cares to bed with you any more than you take them to the table. One of the best mind-freers is after supper exercise. Sedentary workers especially need this bodily activity, but care must be taken not to overstimulate the body. Don’t go in for boxing or piano-moving right after the evening meal.
In conclusion, Miss Alden suggested that, when all else fails, try a few experimental yawns before going to bed; it puts you right in the mood. And don’t, she cautioned, worry about what time you sleep. If you work all night, you can get just as much rest in the daytime as you can at nightâ€” it’s all a matter of regularity and custom.
As an example of this, she cited the case of the retired traveling salesman who was having the dickens of a time getting to sleep after he’d given up his life work. Finally, though, he hit on a planâ€”he had built into his room a Pullman berth, complete with curtains, a ladder to get into it, a hammock for his clothes, and a gentle swaying motion that was exactly reminiscent of his life on the road. He even had a loudspeaker system that droned off the clackety-clack noises of a real train. He slept like a baby, Miss Alden insisted, till the day he died.