Sleep is not something that “just happens” to the mind and body. Sleep is a definite chemical and mechanical process that depends upon the presence of certain essential substances in the brain before it can take place.
No sleeping pill ever compounded can correct the maladjustments in this chemical-mechanical process that caused the insomnia in the first place! Yet an estimated two million sleeping pills a day are taken by persons in this country and still insomnia is on the increase.
More and more magazines are devoting space to articles telling their readers “how to sleep” by trick means. And more and more sleeping pills are being handed over the counter to persons who “can’t sleep” without them.
Not all the sleeping pills in the world and that applies to ear plugs, blinders, snore stoppers and trick beds can bring any direct
influence to bear on the health of the sleep center in the brain, or create the chemistry of sleep.
Nutrition alone can create the conditions that are essential before the conscious mind can cease its darting thought activities and “black out” into the sleep that rests and restores the bodily organs for another session of active living.
Perhaps if some of the many popular misconceptions about sleep were to be debunked, the truth about sleep what it is, what it does and how much we need would in itself become the best sedative anyone could take.
Knowing the facts about sleep and insomnia would dispel a lot of tense, sleep-preventing ideas that clutter up the minds of many persons, making it impossible for them to relax enough to go to sleep.
Like many other bodily disorders, insomnia certainly is not aided by a tense, emotionally overwrought mind. Uncontrolled emotions play so great a part in insomnia that in at least half the cases of sleeplessness the victims remain awake because sleep cannot climb the barrier of an emotion-stimulated conscious mind.
Yet, here again, we come back to the same question that keeps popping up all through this book: Does a mind go haywire emotionally because of uncontrolled thinking, or is this “uncontrolled thinking” merely the symptom of a brain that is not being properly nourished?
In other words, would not a central nervous system (that includes the brain) maintained in top condition by enough of the proper nutritive elements be too strong to fall into the dangerous habit of harboring thoughts and wild emotions?
No one should need to learn “how to go to sleep.” A newborn baby does not have to be trained for sleep. It is only in
later years, after he has allowed the habits of unnatural living to make deep inroads in his physical and mental health, which he must resort to artificial means for inducing the sleep that should be instinctive in him.
Losing the appetite for sleep is comparable to losing the appetite for health-giving food both are evidence of some misapplication of natural law. Man was intended to eat and sleep as effortlessly as a bird flies.
But somewhere in his long, tortuous route from caveman to citizen of the twentieth century, he has acquired the bad habits which have made these two physical instincts more and more of an ordeal.
Sleep, for many persons, has become an elusive state, to be wooed arduously by trickery and artificial stimulants. This is as unnatural as walking on the hands!
The sleeping and waking of the body are controlled by a complex center in the very depths of the brain, known as the sleep center. This sleep center deep within the brain can be regulated in only one way by the blood.
Within the bloodstream should lay the only sleep-inducers that any healthy person would ever need. The chemistry of the blood is so providently worked out by nature that it takes care of any bodily process, including that of sleep.
It is only when the chemistry of the blood is upset that the body mechanism gets out of order, causing, among other things, sleeplessness.
What are the body chemicals that seem to have a direct bearing on sleep? There are two such chemicals with which every reader is familiar usable calcium and lactic acid.
In a simple, ingenious way, nature has set up a sleep cycle between the brain, the nerves, the muscles, the bloodstream, then back to the brain. This cycle, when operating efficiently, makes it impossible for the conscious mind not to sleep at regular intervals when the body energy needs recharging.
This is the way the chemically-controlled sleep cycle operates: Every time the mind sends out an action message to a muscle via a nerve of the central nervous system, certain chemical substances are secreted at the point of contact between the nerve and the muscle that is to go into action. One of the substances liberated at the nerve ends is calcium.
During the course of a certain period, various muscles are continuously being stimulated, thus much calcium is liberated from the contact points of nerve and muscle, passing into the bloodstream where it finally reaches the sleep center of the brain.
When enough calcium has reached the sleep center, automatically the conscious brain ceases to send out nerve impulses to the muscles and sleep takes place because this sleep center has been saturated with calcium.
Therefore, this sleep center cannot induce the conscious brain to slow down and fall asleep until enough calcium reaches this center via the bloodstream.
Science has discovered that calcium injected directly into the sleep center of an animal will cause it to fall asleep instantly. But, curiously enough, calcium injected into the bloodstream of that animal did not cause sleep.
Therefore, it was apparent that some other substance was needed before calcium could cause the desired reaction on the sleep center of the brain.
After further research, it was found that the sleep center must first be “sensitized” by special fatigue substances, such as lactic acid before it can react to the influence of the calcium accumulations.
Hence the bloodstream must contain enough calcium and enough lactic acid before the sleep center of the brain can produce drowsiness and inactivity of the conscious mind.
Everyone knows that a day of physical activity performed in the open air will often prove to be the best cure for insomnia. Confirmed insomniacs have been known to fall asleep as soon as their heads touched the pillow, after a day spent in the outdoors, at the beach or in the country.
Why? Partly because the sunshine and fresh air induced mental relaxation, but mostly because the greater amount of physical activity released more calcium and lactic acid into the bloodstream, thereby providing sufficient stimulation for the sleep center of the brain.
To the best of my knowledge, I have never encountered a laborer, a farmer or a lumbeijack who suffered from insomnia!
All the victims of sleeplessness whom I have met are those persons whose mental activity outbalances their muscular activity.
This, in itself, causes a lack of insufficient calcium and lactic acid in the bloodstream. And when to this is also added the further sin of meals seriously lacking in the mineral calcium and in lactic acid; it can only aggravate an already unbalanced chemical condition of the blood.
Further proof that we need these two chemical products of muscular activity in the blood before the sleep center can call a halt to conscious thinking and muscular action is the fact that insomnia develops during sickness and in invalids who had formerly been sound sleepers.
The enforced muscular idleness occasioned by their illness upsets the “sleep chemistry” of the blood to the point where not enough calcium and lactic acid reach the sleep center of the brain.
Instead of prescribing sleeping pills containing the poisonous drug phenobarbital for these innocent victims of insomnia, I would like to see the sensible physician recommend adding to their diet the two elements calcium and lactic acid which the period of muscular inactivity has taken away from the patient’s bloodstream, hence from the sleep center of the brain, the sole source of inducing natural sleep.