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SEA Currents September 26th, 2021
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National Sleep Awareness Week: Sleep… or the Hygiene of the Night

Posted by on March 15th, 2021 Posted in: All Posts

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.

Wooden engraving of a man sleeping in a field under a smiling moon

Wood engraving from Némésis médicale illustrée, v. 2, p. 170, circa 1840

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.”

Screenshot from an NLM digital collections book with a blue box outlining the quote from the previous paragraph in this post.

Screenshot from NLM HMD collections web page, page 29 in 1870 publication, Sleep, or, The Hygiene of the Night

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:

Advertisement for the sleep remedy Dodds Nervine, cira 1860-1900

Advertisement, circa 1860-1900

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:

Cartoon of a man sleeping in bed with the text 'Plenty of sleep keeps him on the job.'

Poster from the U.S. Public Health Service, circa 1942

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:

Rows of cartoon sheep intermixed with three images of a man having trouble falling asleep. Text for the advertisement reads 'Trouble sleeping? Don't be sheepish...if insomnia persists, see your doctor...'

Poster from US Department of Health and Human Services sleep campaign, circa 1980

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:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day
  • Avoid caffeine, especially in the afternoon and evening
  • Avoid nicotine
  • Exercise regularly, but don’t exercise too late in the day
  • Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed
  • Avoid large meals and beverages late at night
  • Don’t take a nap after 3 p.m.
  • Relax before bed, for example by taking a bath, reading or listening to relaxing music
  • Keep the temperature in your bedroom cool
  • Get rid of distractions such as noises, bright lights, and a TV or computer in the bedroom. Also, don’t be tempted to go on your phone or tablet just before bed.
  • Get enough sunlight exposure during the day
  • Don’t lie in bed awake; if you can’t sleep for 20 minutes, get up and do something relaxing
  • See a doctor if you have continued trouble sleeping. You may have a sleep disorder, such as insomnia or sleep apnea. In some cases, your doctor may suggest trying over-the-counter or prescription sleep aid. In other cases, your doctor may want you to do a sleep study, to help diagnose the problem.

Read more about Healthy Sleep on MedlinePlus, which includes the recommendations above.

NNLM SEA wishes you sweet dreams & a happy National Sleep Awareness Week!

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