Monday, January 21, 2013

Sleep well... with help

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:


Sleep well!


Camille Minichino said...

Fear of someone using that "flesh brush" on me might be the best thing to get me to sleep!

It all makes me wonder how the "cures" and "aids" of today will be viewed in the future.

Ann Parker said...

Hello Camille!
I had the same reaction... a flesh brush?? I do wonder how stiff the bristles are. I'm guessing it must be pretty soft, or no one would even contemplate a "vigorous brushing!" But I think something like that (like scrubbing down with a rough towel) would wake me up, not put me to sleep.
As for today's sleep aids,"daily exercise" is still in the list. I find a hot water bottle sometimes helps (unless it's a case of runaway imagination keeping me awake!).

Unknown said...

Thank you again, Ann. I'll be downloading a copy of Insomnia and its Therapeutics soon. I so appreciate this follow-up blog.


Renaissance Women said...

Fascinating. Dry brushing, not vigorously, is in vogue in the natural health field these days. It is used more for sloughing off dead skin cells, but your post does tie the concept into its historical perspective. Everything old is new again. (That last was quoted from a song.) Currently digging up information on a early homeopathic female doctor in Colorado Springs so this really ties in.

Ann Parker said...

Hi Nancy!
The Insomnia book has LOADS of recipes for sleep aids (tonics, powders, what-have-you), so I'm thinking you'll find what you need there. :-)

Ann Parker said...

Hello Doris!
Ah! So dry brushing is back (or maybe never went away?). Does it use a brush or a loofah or something like that?
Good luck on your digging! There sure were a lot of doctors in Colorado Springs area. Probably more doctors there than lawyers in Leadville (and there were a LOT of lawyers in Leadville! ;-) ).

Liz V. said...

You may enjoy this article on natural sleep cycles:

CK Stuckey said...

Hmmmm....I thought hysteria was the "affliction peculiar to females"?

My great-grandmother's solution was to say your prayers, because sleeplessness was the sign of a guilty conscience.

Eunice Boeve said...

Trouble is hubby would wake me to do the brushing. :-) Actually, I think he'd probably love it.

Ann Parker said...

Hello Carol! Coming late to your comment. Your great-grandmother sounds like a character, and I love her suggestion for "sleeping soundly." I might just have to steal that line. :-)

Ann Parker said...

Hello Eunice!
Yes, it'd be a little easier to probably get him a glass of warm milk, right? :-) I have to wonder how well the "brushing" really works to induce a sleepy state of being, though.