Great Essay About Sleep

Shakespeare writes of “Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care.” The metaphor is striking, but not accurate. To knit up that which is ravelled implies using the old material in repairing the damage, but that is not the way in which the body is rebuilt. The old material is thrown out and new material put in its place, and that largely takes place during sleep. We have read of brownies who came at night and swept and churned and baked while the housewife slept. So, in our bodily dwelling, the vital forces are our brownies, and they can work more uninterruptedly while we are asleep than when we are calling on them to move us from place to place, or to aid us in various activities.

Much of life’s processes must remain a mystery to us, but certain things we have learned, and one is that perfect health cannot be maintained, strong nerves cannot be constructed, nor a clear brain be built without plenty of sleep. The baby sleeps almost continually because he is building so much new structure. The growing child needs more sleep than the adult; but even after reaching maturity sleep [40]cannot be materially lessened without injury to the whole organization.

We appreciate the need of food. We are often very needlessly alarmed for fear that we shall starve from one meal to the next, but few of us realize that food cannot be assimilated, built into tissue, without some hours in which the vital forces can devote themselves wholly to the work of assimilation. During the working hours of the day we are expending force. The brain is using it in thought, the muscles are calling for force in various activities, the emotions are expending energy, and each of these activities is creating changes in the cells of the body. We know that life in the body is only possible through constant death of the atoms of which it is composed. We can only live because we are constantly dying. Huxley says, “For every vital act, life is used up. All work implies waste, and the work of life results directly or indirectly in the waste of protoplasm (which is the cell substance). Every word uttered by a speaker costs him some physical loss, and in the strictest sense he burns that others may have light.”

Each word, thought, activity, emotion causes expenditure, and unless expenditure is in some way made good, there will be bankruptcy. How shall we get back the energy we have expended and so restore our vital forces to their equilibrium? The protoplasm of which [41]our cells are made we can obtain from the protoplasm of animal and vegetable substances which we eat, but we cannot use the material unless we are sometimes at rest, and by quiescence of brain and muscle give a chance for worn-out cells to be removed and new material put in their place. It is when we lay our bodies down in the beautiful repose of slumber that this process can go on with most perfect results. Then, when all the forces can be concentrated on the process of nutrition, will nutrition be most perfect. When we awake refreshed after a night of sound sleep we are really fed. It is quite doubtful if, in a normal condition, we would want food until we had been at work some time and by destroying tissue have created a demand for more new material.

If we were only half as anxious that food should be assimilated—that is, made over into ourselves—as we are that it should be put into the stomach, we would be very careful to secure for ourselves a due amount of good sleep. And what is a due amount? That depends. I once heard of a servant girl whose mistress complained of her because she did not get up early in the morning, and the girl’s excuse was, “But, ma’am, I can’t get up early because I sleep so slow.”

It seems a ridiculous statement, and yet there is a germ of truth in it. In some people the [42]vital processes go on with such rapidity that the old, worn-out material will be eliminated and the new material built into the body in a comparatively short time. Seven hours of good sleep, perhaps, make them feel strong and rested and able to start on a new day’s work with courage and ease. In others the vital processes are hindered or work feebly and slowly, and eight or nine hours of sleep scarcely suffice to complete the work of restoration. What is the obvious inference? Simply that each one shall judge for himself; but each should be wise enough not to confuse sleeplessness with having had sufficient sleep.

Very frequently the loss of sleep makes it difficult or impossible to sleep, and not until the excited condition of nerves can be calmed, can refreshing slumber be obtained. Young women who attempt to be in school and in society at the same time often bring themselves into the condition of insomnia or sleeplessness, and foolishly fancy that because they do not sleep they do not need it.

It is not at all difficult to understand that if you are constantly taking money out of the bank, you must also be constantly putting money in, or some day you will be told that your account is already overdrawn and your draft will not be honored. One can overdraw for a time, and right here is the danger with young people. They fancy, because they are [43]not at once told that they are overdrawing, that their bank account is unlimited, and then, when it is too late, they find themselves on the verge, if not clear over the verge, of bankruptcy.

How shall you know whether you sleep enough? If you will make it a rule to go to bed by ten o’clock every night, and go to sleep at once, and sleep soundly and waken with a clear head and a rested feeling, you may infer that you have slept enough. If you are still tired or dull, something is wrong. You may have been in bed long enough, but your room may not have been ventilated, and so you may be poisoned by breathing over and over again the emanations from your own body. Or for some reason the process of digestion and assimilation may not have been carried on, and poisons have been created instead of being eliminated.

If you waken unrefreshed, I should want to inquire into your habits of life. Was there opportunity for fresh air to enter your room? Was there in it no uncovered vessel, no old shoes in the closet, no soiled underclothing, nothing that could contaminate the atmosphere? Did you eat a hearty supper late in the evening? Is your system oppressed with a superabundance of sweets? Are you living on simple, wholesome food, or eating irregularly of all sorts of trash? There may be many causes, you see, for your “tired feeling” in the morning, [44]and instead of taking some “Sarsaparilla,” or other drug, I should try to find out the cause and remove it.

Many people are afraid of night air, and scrupulously shut it out of their sleeping-rooms, and yet, what kind of air can you get at night but night air? And is it not better to have pure night air from out of doors than the impure night air of a close room? I once went with two ladies to ascend the Rigi in Switzerland, in order to see the sun rise. One of these was a Polish countess, who took with her a little black-and-tan terrier. The hotel at the Rigi Staeffel was crowded, and we thought ourselves very fortunate to secure a room with three beds. The Countess disposed herself in one bed with her little dog, and I took one bed, saying to my friend, “You’ll please open the window before you go to bed?” “O certainly,” she replied.

The little Countess sprang up in evident alarm. “Open the window!” she cried; “why, we’d all take our death of cold! I beg of you don’t do it. I could not sleep a wink if the window were open.”

My friend spoke reassuringly to her, and she at length grew quiet, when my friend surreptitiously raised a window and we went to sleep. The next morning the Countess asked, with a strange air of incredulity, “Were you in earnest when you spoke about opening the window? [45]Why, I never heard of such a thing in my life. I know I should have been ill if you had persisted in having the window open.”

My friend and I exchanged glances silently. We knew she was not ill and she had slept with the window open, but doubtless she would have been ill had she known it was open, for she had a wonderful imagination. When we were called at three o’clock to get up and go to the top of the mountain to see the sun rise, she turned herself luxuriously in her bed and said she could imagine it. She had taken this journey and “climbed the mountain” (that is, was carried up in a chair, with her dog in her lap), to see the famous sunrise on the Rigi, and then remained in bed and imagined it! Her imagination seemed entirely satisfactory, and so we did not quarrel with her.

Sleep is the most positive beautifier, the best cosmetic. The term “beauty sleep” is no misnomer. Sleep freshens the complexion, smoothes out wrinkles, clears out the brain, strengthens the muscles, puts light into the eyes and color into the cheek.


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