Old-Fashioned Insomnia Treatments and Cures

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Wednesday, April 3, 1912: I haven’t much to write about. I have all my lessons out for tonight that I am going to study, so adieu till tomorrow.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Ah, Grandma sounds relaxed and ready for some sweet, dreamless sleep. Here’s what a hundred year old book has to say about sleep:

A sound sleep is dreamless. Dreams require a certain expenditure of nerve force and mental energy, so that dreamless sleep is the most restful. Disagreeable dreams and “night-mares” are generally associated with indigestion and biliousness*, which also occasion a general restlessness.

Treatment for Insomnia- The mechanical measures for the relief of insomnia have for their purpose the withdrawing of the blood from the brain to the surface of the skin: hot foot-baths, general warm baths, brisk exercise, light massage, and cold rooms. Mental work should be laid aside several hours before retiring; late suppers avoided; coffee, if taken at all, should only be taken for breakfast, and then only one cup. Reading or amusement should be selected that does not excite the nerves.

To woo sleep the woman should put herself in a position of rest, which of itself physiologically induces sleep. Avoid irritations, noises, bad air, cold feet, overloaded bowels, all of which tend to wakefulness to prevent the proper physical rest. Then sleep usually comes of itself.

Personal Hygiene and Physical Training for Women (1911) by Anna M. Galbraith

*Note: Biliousness is an old-fashioned word that refers to gastric distress or excess secretion of bile.

7 Responses

  1. No wonder I occasionally suffer from insomnia! That’s some list of do’s and don’ts.

  2. Interestingly enough, I believe that a healthy sleep includes several hours in REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep when you are dreaming!

    • A hundred years ago they didn’t have all of the scientific knowledge that we have now. It’s interesting how sometimes when I read old books, I find that the “facts” were very different then from what they are now.

  3. We have learned that dreaming can well be a good thing during sleep. I think that “brisk exercise” actually can prevent sleep if it’s too close to bedtime. Interesting how what we “know” changes sometimes.

  4. The term “overloaded bowels” cracked me up! :) Never heard it put quite that way before… Wonder what terms we use now will sound funny to people a hundred years from now…

    Interesting how things change – I learned that dreams were a necessary and healthy part of the sleep cycle, too.

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