This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
It may be said broadly that sleeplessness is either because of an offended stomach (through food wrong, or in excess), or because of a brain insufficiently sustained, and therefore unquiet. For the former condition a spare, light, and soothing diet, especially towards night, must be adopted; for the latter state cordials, and stimulating support are rather indicated. Several alimentary substances appropriate to each of these causative states have been explicitly considered in previous pages here, such as, (for dyspeptic wakefulness) Fish at the evening meal, the Hop, 'Lemon Squash, Lettuce, Liquorice, Oat tincture, Onions, Orange-flower water, water hot at night, and whey: for the latter form of restlessness, Alcohol, Ale (bitter), Coffee, Condimentary Spices, Cowslip wine, liqueurs, and possets have been commended. Chaucer, in the Canterbury Tales (Nun's Priest's story of the Cock, and the Fox) makes Dame Partlet of the poultry yard bid her Lord Chanticleer "pay no regard to Dreams, which come of red choler, but for the love of Heaven to take cooling herbs, dogwood berries, or ground ivy that is growing in the yard: pick them where they grow, and eat them.
Come! be merry, my dear husband; for the sake of your father's kindred do not be afraid of Dreams." In his Religio Medici Sir Thomas Browne has reflected thus deeply: "I thank God for my happy dreams, as I do for my good rest; for there is a satisfaction in them unto reasonable desires, and such as can be content with a fit of happiness; and surely it is not a melancholy conceit to think we are all asleep in this world, and that the conceits of this life are as mere dreams to those of the next, - as the phantasms of the night to the conceits of the day; there is an equal delusion in both, and the one doth seem to be but the embleme, or picture of the other; we are somewhat more than ourselves in our sleeps, and the slumber of the body seems to be but the waking of the soul. It is the litigation of sense, but the liberty of reason; and our waking conceptions do not match the fancies of our sleeps. We term sleep a death, and yet it is waking that kills us, and destroys those spirits that are the house of life; a death which Adam dyed before his mortality; a death whereby we live a middle, and moderating point between life, and death; in fine, so like death I dare not trust it without my prayers, and a half adieu unto the world, and take my farewell in a colloquy with God. This is the dormative I take to bedward; I need no other Laudanum than this to make me sleep; afterwards I close mine eyes in security, content to take my leave of the Sun, and sleep unto the Resurrec-tion." In similar strain Charles Lamb has written (Popular Fallacies): "It is good to have friends at court; the abstracted media of dreams seem no ill introduction to that spiritual presence upon which in no long time we expect to be thrown; we are trying to know a little of the usages of that colony, - to learn the language, and the faces we shall meet with there, that we may be the less awkward at our first coming among them.
We willingly call a phantom our fellow, as knowing we shall soon be of their dark companionship. Therefore we cherish dreams." "A word of admonition," wrote Robert L. Stevenson, "is never out of place against working the young brain beyond its powers, or its endurance. We have all at our bedsides the box of the merchant Abudah, and, thank God! securely enough shut; but when a young man sacrifices sleep to labour let him have a care! he is tampering rashly with the lock." "Abudah" (in the Tales of the Genii, 1765) "is a wealthy merchant of Bagdad who sets out in quest of a talisman, which he is driven to seek by a little old hag who escapes from a chest, and haunts him every night, making his life sleepless, and wretched. He finds at last that the talisman which will free him from this hag (conscience) is ' to fear God, and keep His commandments.' "
On the other hand, it is contended by some competent authorities that too much sleep deadens the senses, and weakens the vitality; in favour of which view striking examples may be given of persons distinguished for energy of mind, and body, who have allowed themselves but little sleep throughout a long, and active career. Napoleon managed his greatest campaign whilst sleeping for only four, or five hours a night. Brunei, the famous engineer, worked for twenty hours a day, and rarely went to bed; he slept for two, or three hours in his arm-chair, and was ready at early dawn for the work of the day; he is said to have never seemed tired, or out of spirits. Humboldt is recorded as saying: "As I get old I want more sleep, - four hours at least. When I was young two hours were quite enough for me".
He died at the age of eighty years. Littre, the great French philologist, spent nearly twenty years in compiling his Dictionary; and during all that time he never stopped work until three o'clock in the morning, and was at it again before eight o'clock a.m. He lived to be eighty. It was John Wesley's dictum that "six hours should be allowed for sleep to a man, seven to a woman, and eight to a fool".