=Keeping Account.= A bright young college graduate came to me for a number of ailments, chief among them being sleeplessness. She was also overcome by fatigue, having spent four months in bed. A four-mile walk in the canon and a few other such outings soon dispelled the fatigue, but the insomnia proved more obstinate. After she had been with me for a week or two, I took her aside one day for a little talk. “Well?” I said as we sat down. Then she began: “Sunday night I was awake from half-past one to four, Monday from twelve to one, Tuesday from one to three, Wednesday from two to four, Thursday—” By this time she became aware of the quizzical expression on my face and began to be embarrassed. Then she stopped and laughed. “Well,” she said, “I did not know that I was paying so much attention to my sleep.” She was bright enough to see the point at once, gave up her preoccupation in the all-absorbing topic and promptly forgot to have any trouble with so natural a function as sleep.
=Making New Associations.= Examples like this show how natural is childlike slumber when once we take away the inhibitions of a hampering idea. Age-old habits like sleep are not lost, but they may easily be interfered with by a little too much attention. When a person who can scarcely keep his eyes open all the evening is instantly wide awake as soon as his head touches the pillow, we may be sure that a part of his trouble comes from the wrong associations which he has built up with the thought of night. When a dear little old lady told me of her constant state of apprehension about going to bed, I said to her: “When I go to my room, the darkness says sleep. When I take off my clothes, the very act says sleep. When I put my head on the pillow, the pillow says sleep.” She liked that and found herself able to sleep all night. The next evening she wanted another “sleeping-potion” but as I did not want her to become dependent on anybody’s suggestion, I put my mouth up close to her ear and whispered, “Abra ca dabra, dum, dum, dum.” She laughed, but saw the point. After that she slept very well. She merely broke the habit by making a new kind of association with the thought of bed. Nature did the rest.
It seems hardly necessary to remark that drug-taking is the most inefficient way of handling the situation. Everybody knows that narcotics are harmful to the delicate cells of the brain and that the dose has to be continuously increased in cases of chronic insomnia. If a person realizes that the drug is far more harmful than the insomnia itself, he is weak indeed to yield to temptation for the sake of a few nights of sleep. As the cause of insomnia is psychic, so the only logical cure is a new idea and a new attitude of mind.
Like all nervous symptoms, insomnia is not an affliction but an indulgence. Somehow, and in ways unknown to the conscious mind, it brings a certain amount of satisfaction to a part of the personality. No matter how unpleasant it may be, no matter how much we consciously fear it, something inside chooses to stay awake.