There are some individuals who can lay their heads on their pillows and be asleep in two minutes. Other normal people require nearly half an hour. The average is about eight minutes.
One common problem is that although sleep comes on promptly, after a certain amount of time spent sleeping, the individual begins to enter lighter and lighter sleep until he enters a very superficial level of sleep, can easily become wide awake, and being now rested, cannot return to sleep. Another common type of sleep disorder is that the person dreads to go to bed, as he knows he will be tossing and turning for an hour or two before sleep will come. There are special things that should be done for these two types of sleep disorders.
For the first person it is helpful upon awakening to begin immediately to take deep breaths, making certain the room is filled with fresh air. Sleep is a positive action of the mind, not an absence of mental activity. Often the person tries to lie entirely immobile, even rigidly motionless, becoming anxious about the anticipated sleeplessness, and is soon in no state to go back to sleep. Tense and relax successive muscle groups beginning with the facial muscles and progress to neck, then shoulders and so on.
Have at the bedside a cup of catnip tea which may be taken to give a little sedation. It is entirely innocuous and leaves no hangover. Catnip tea may also be taken in the evening to induce sleep. Other effective and harmless herbal teas are hops and skullcap. The three teas may be taken together if desired.
One should spend any time awake contemplating God’s eternal virtues such as goodness, humility, love, patience, temperance, carefulness, care taking, faithfulness to duty, and loyalty. There is a peace-giving quality in this category of thoughts. One should not waste one’s thoughts on counting sheep or picket fence slats.
For the second kind of insomnia, the inability to get to sleep, among the best things that can be done is physical exercise during the day, at least one hour being spent out-of-doors in some kind of brisk labor or sports. Second, avoid taking a heavy or late supper. If anything is taken it should be only whole grain breads or cereals, and simple fruit.
The third thing is to decide that even if one cannot sleep, the benefits of rest will be obtained, which, under proper circumstances of relaxation and mental peace, can result in good refreshment. Never take sleeping pills, as to do so merely borrows sleep from the future which must all be paid back with interest. Each day’s sleep should be taken care of for better or worse within that 24 hours if possible. Sleep lost at night should be made up the following morning before lunchtime if possible, as an afternoon nap may spoil evening sleep for the person who has sleep problems.
Generally one can expect that sleep before midnight is about twice as refreshing as sleep after midnight. The rhythmic pattern of hormones in the blood apparently accounts for this preference for sleep before midnight. If one has a tendency to difficulty in sleeping the night through, it is better to get sleep early in the evening, rather than staying up late, thinking that by doing so one will put one’s self in a more advantageous position.
It is essential to be regular in all one’s habits, particularly in mealtimes and bedtimes. Take the meals at the same time daily, and go to bed at the same time each night. The habit of a regular bedtime from infancy to old age does more toward promoting good habits of sleep than any other thing.
An evening ritual will assist in developing good sleep habits. No new activities should begin late in the day, as that tends to excite the nervous system and make one less able to concentrate on the activity of going to sleep. If every night is characterized by a certain pattern of evening activities such as a bath, dressing, a period of evening meditation and prayer, turning off the lights, going to bed, assuming a comfortable position in a comfortable bed, and being clothed warmly, drifting off to sleep can become a part of the ritual.
An often overlooked cause of insomnia is the use of stimulating beverages. All caffeine-containing drinks such as coffee, tea, colas, and chocolate should be avoided in the evening. The nervous system is pharmacologically stimulated by these drugs, and can cause sleep to flee.
If one awakens in the middle of the night, and cannot sleep, the neutral bath is often a lifesaver. If you do not drift back to sleep within ten minutes of awakening, slowly arise, draw a tub of water at neutral temperature (between 92 and 96 degrees), soak in the bath from 10 to 50 minutes, slowly arise from the bath, blot the skin dry with a soft towel (no brisk and stimulating frictioning as in the morning), and return to bed, breathing easily and slowly. Be assured that this treatment will bring you pleasant dreams.
For fussy infants, a soak in a hot water bath, three minutes, will almost invariably be followed by sleep.
The majority of this content is taken from Dr. Agatha Thrash of Uchee Pines Institute, printed with permission by Wildwood Inn Health Retreat.