If you are to do sound repair work during your sleep, you must establish in your body certain conditions before you can expect it as a machine, to perform efficiently its various mechanical functions. Obviously, all these functions are not of equal importance, but even minor inefficiency of the least important of them is likely to interfere with sound repair work.
Some of the conditions required for the efficient performance of the mechanical functions of your body during sleep are almost self-evident, but since experience shows that the majority of sufferers from insomnia completely neglect many of them, and that all sufferers neglect at least a few, I shall mention the most obvious without entering into a discussion of their desirability.
You cannot breathe freely unless your nose is free. Always blow your nose, clearing it completely, before you go to sleep, and if you wake up again, make sure it is free, and if not, blow it again. Also clear your throat, and if conditions warrant it, gargle, before going to bed. Expand your chest a few times, filling your lungs completely, and, what is more important, emptying them. Also expand and contract the muscles of the waist and the abdominal wall, and stretch the whole body well.
You must not expect sound sleep if your bowels are loaded. Even without Nature's prompting, develop the habit of trying to empty them before retiring for the night. Also empty your bladder.
The efficiency of every mechanical function of your body during sleep depends on that of your blood circulation. Your circulation cannot possibly be efficient if your system is short of fluid, and in health the weight of the body is represented by 85 per cent of water. In sleep, in a warm bed, you lose large quantities of fluids, by evaporation through the lungs, by perspiration, and through the kidneys. Train yourself to take a good quantity of liquid, preferably warm, as you go to bed, not for the sake of nourishment, but just for the fluid itself. If you wake up again, lake some more warm liquid (a thermos flask by the bedside is useful). It is better to go to bed with too much liquid than with too little. At first your sleep may be disturbed by the necessity to empty the bladder, but adjustment is soon made, the lungs and pores getting rid of a larger proportion of your fluids as the quality of your sleep improves, and the kidneys being proportionately relieved. Endeavour to take at least four pints of fluid a day.
There must be no restriction of either movement or function; let your bed-clothes be light, though sufficiently warm, and banish tight garments, belts, etc.
Having covered the more obvious conditions that are required for sound work of repair, we can now deal in detail with the one mechanical condition of the body that matters above all— relaxation.
Why does relaxation matter so much?
Because its opposites—tension and contraction—interfere with the sound working of your system, and more specially with sound work of repair during sleep.
Contraction wastes nervous and muscular energy, hinders circulation (as you will realize if you watch your fist getting whiter as you clench it), strains and overworks the heart, and restricts breathing and other functions.
You may agree with all these points and with the necessity of relaxation for sound repair work, and yet be no better off than if you disagreed.
You may imagine that you automatically relax as soon as you fall asleep, remaining relaxed as long as you remain asleep, and that there is not therefore any point in bothering about relaxing before losing consciousness. You can easily convince yourself that this commonly held opinion is mistaken by testing the relaxation and limpness of many of your friends during sleep, when you will find very few who do not show quite marked contraction in some part of their bodies.
You may imagine that whenever you lie down you are soon perfectly relaxed in every limb, but you will soon be disabused if you will only get a friend to test the relaxation and limpness of your legs and arms and neck.
Or you may have tried hard to relax and have given it up as a bad job, as you are convinced that you, at any rate, will never manage it.
Whatever your attitude, you may rest assured that not only is relaxation worth seeking consciously and deliberately, but that perfect relaxation can only be achieved consciously, and furthermore, that you will easily achieve it consciously if you will only apply your mind to the problem in the right way.
Contraction is mostly unconscious, and since you cannot cure yourself of a fault of which you are not conscious, your first problem is to find out how you can make yourself conscious of your contractions.
When a tennis coach has to deal with a youngster with a badly produced back-hand stroke, he must teach the boy two things before he can give him the correct stroke; he must make him conscious of what he is doing and then of what he ought to be doing.
But with relaxation, since it does not involve any work, the problem of the coach is simplified and limited to making his pupil conscious of what he is doing so that he can stop doing it.
It is possible, but very difficult, to make oneself conscious of all one's contractions unaided, and it is simpler, quicker, and more effective to enlist the assistance of a friend who knows how to relax or of a teacher of relaxation.
You may not always have a bed or couch within reach, but there is no doubt that the best position for relaxation is flat on your back with your arms by your sides, and with a small pillow for your head if you require it. Failing a couch, make your experiment on the floor.
Whether you appeal to friend or teacher, both they and you must bear in mind the following points:—
Their function is to test the limpness of your legs, abdominal wall, waist, chest, back, arms, and neck, not with the object of making you limper by their action, but of making you conscious of any contraction in any part of your body.
They must repeat their testing movements of your body in detail, not only until they and you are satisfied that you are conscious of any contraction in any part, but until, by careful study of your sensations and actions, you have managed to find out exactly which muscle you are unconsciously holding contracted and to remove the contraction completely.
When you have achieved this, your legs will drop or bend limply as soon as your teacher releases them, the abdominal wall will cave in at the least touch without sign of resistance, your breathing will become a deep easy heave with occasional full and spontaneous sighs, to which you will give free play, your arms will be completely loose, and your neck will be easy to swing in any direction. In short, you will be as limp and inert as if you were in a dead faint.
It is at this moment that you will require the whole of your attention and concentration if you are to reap the full and lasting benefit of your experience. You must rest for some time in your condition of limpness, remaining perfectly quiescent, but observing keenly all your sensations, registering with the utmost accuracy exactly what it feels like to be relaxed, trying wherever possible to deepen your relaxation, noting how you are breathing, how deeply, how fast, what degree of comfort, warmth, well-being, you have achieved. And, more important still, you must engrave all these details in your memory as clearly as you can so as to make it easier to reproduce them at will in the future.
Having once experienced relaxation and its benefits, and convinced yourself of its value, it is up to you to undertake your own reeducation by repeated and sustained practice until perfect relaxation unconsciously takes the place of your previous unconscious tensions and contractions. By the gradual building up of an automatism of relaxation you will considerably improve your chances of establishing in your body the right conditions for sound work of repair.
The best times for these practices are the periods just preceding your meals (for relaxation at those times promotes better digestion) and as you get into bed at night. You should never miss the latter period.
When you have established complete relaxation you have secured the right conditions for the performance of the mechanical functions of your body during sleep. You have as yet done nothing to add to the store of nervous energy available for this performance, or to induce in your mind the conditions that will make it easy for it to control subconsciously your work of repair once you have allowed yourself to lose consciousness.
And you must remember that relaxation is to your body what taking off the brakes is to your motor-car, and no more. It makes it possible for your body to work, but it does not make it work. To make it work, you need motive power, just as your motor-car does, and an efficient mind, just as your motor-car needs an efficient driver.