I recently posted at the Poisoned Pen Press blog about headache/migraine cures that were sometimes used "way back when." Someone then commented/asked about "sleep aids" in the 1800s. Well, heck, ask me to investigate something from the past, and...
Google books makes it easy to dig back into time and uncover such information. Here, for instance, is a bit of advice from DR. CHASE'S FAMILY PHYSICIAN, FARRIER, BEE-KEEPER, AND SECOND RECEIPT BOOK (I have a hardcopy, but image capture is so much easier than all that typing):
Hmm. Being scrubbed vigorously all over doesn't sound very sleep-inducing to me. And what, I wondered, does a flesh brush (circa 1880) look like?
It looks like this:
This, actually, is "Dr. Scott's Electric Flesh Brush," which was widely advertised starting in the early 1880s. According to the website American Artifacts: Scientific Medical & Mechanical Antiques, Dr. Scott (a bit--or perhaps a lot--of a medical quack) embedded slightly magnetized iron rods in his brush handles, claiming that curative powers could be provided by magnetism.
The rest of Dr. Chase's advice sounds like something you'd hear today: Get out and get some exercise during the day to sleep better at night.
I stumbled across another free historical ebook from the past that looks REALLY interesting regarding this subject (although a bit late for me, as it was published in 1891): INSOMNIA AND ITS THERAPEUTICS by Alexander William Macfarlane. The table of contents gives you an idea of the amount of detail you're in for, as it divides the causes (and cures) of insomnia into various categories: insomnia due to nervous system afflictions (overwork, shock, depressing emotions, hysteria, spasmodic neuroses, etc., etc.), insomnia due to alimentary canal afflictions (gastric dyspepsia, intestinal dyspepsia, constipation, etc., etc.), and insomnia due to afflictions of the respiratory system and urinary system, was well as (ahem) afflictions peculiar to females.
With Leadville, Colorado, perched at the 10,000-plus-foot mark in the Rocky Mountains, I can well imagine hordes of men and women, paging desperately through pages of books such as these, looking for "causes and cures" of sleeplessness, which might actually be due to altitude sickness.
An ingredient commonly used in tonics or imbibed "straight" to quiet the mind and body for sleep back then would have been in great supply at The Silver Queen Saloon--my ficitional drinking establishment in Leadville: