Written By: Nancy Patterson, Network Education, Outreach and Engagement Librarian, NNLM SEA
The topic of sleep as it relates to health is all the rage lately. We’ve seen it all – lack of sleep is the “new cancer”, recommendations and checklists for good sleep hygiene, rankings of most beneficial stages of sleep and how long we should spend in each… it’s enough to make you want to curl up, tune out and just take a nap.
But sleep is not a new topic at all; it’s been on our collective minds for ages as a recent trip down rabbit holes in the National Library of Medicine’s History of Medicine Division collections confirmed. We have learned MUCH through time, though. As example, take this excerpt from the 1870 publication, Sleep, or, The Hygiene of the Night, which includes such tantalizing chapter headings as Sleeping with the Old, Sleeping in Prisons, and Sleeping with Consumptives:
“It is not only unwise, it is unnatural and degenerative, for one person to pass the night habitually in the same bed or room with another, whatever may be the age, sex, or relationship of the parties. Unwise, because it impairs the general health and undermines the constitution, by reason of the fact, that the atmosphere of any ordinary chamber occupied by more than one sleeper, is speedily vitiated, and hat in this vitiated condition, it is breathed over and over again for the space of the eight hours usually passed in sleep, amounting, in the aggregate, to one third of a man’s entire life. Unnatural, because it is contrary to our instincts; and it is lowering, because it diminishes that usual consideration and respect which ought to prevail in social life.”
As you may expect, that excerpt is from the chapter, Pure Sleeping Rooms. We’ve either come a long way or have become comfortable with our degenerate status!
So much of the current-day focus on sleep centers on the notion that we are living in unprecedented times in terms of stress levels and daily pressures we face and the related high numbers of people who contend with anxiety and depression. Another focus is the worrisome ways we medicate, over-medicate or self-medicate in order to simply get some shut-eye. Again, this is not new – While the following advertisement from the late 1800’s may also fall under “snake oil”, it’s a testimony to the concerns of the day:
Moving on to 1942, the message may be more about maintaining productivity than the value of an individual’s health, but sleep is on the radar, so to speak:
Some of the artifacts in the History of Medicine Division collections convey to today’s standards, as portrayed in this public health campaign from the 1980’s:
The lightheartedness of this post aside, healthy sleep hygiene IS critical to one’s overall health and insomnia is no laughing matter. Don’t be sheepish about getting help from your physician if you’re contending with any sleep disturbances.
Beyond just getting enough sleep, current recommendations for good sleep hygiene include:
Read more about Healthy Sleep on MedlinePlus, which includes the recommendations above.
NNLM SEA wishes you sweet dreams & a happy National Sleep Awareness Week!