5 ancient tricks of the first dream gurus to fight insomnia (and that help you today)

5 ancient tricks of the first dream gurus to fight insomnia (and that help you today)


The first dream gurus believed that consistency was the key to a long and virtuous life.

We all like to sleep well at night, and people from the past also liked it.

Much we can learn from how our ancestors from the modern era onwards have attacked the scourges of lack of sleep and insomnia.

Here are five old tricks and tips to have a rejuvenating dream.

1. Stick to a routine

The first dream gurus believed that consistency was the key to a long and virtuous life.

We are all obsessed with the dream, or the lack of it. In our modern world of long working hours, high levels of stress and a lot of time in front of a screen, the quest to get to sleep the recommended eight hours has become a kind of holy grail.

But what did our ancestors do? How did they fight the lack of sleep? The first thing on his list of priorities was to set a specific period dedicated to sleep, and stick to it every night.

In fact, they believed that having a fixed number of hours of sleep was one of the keys to keeping in good shape not only the body, but also the mind and soul.


A woman sleeps on a screen keyboard.
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Image caption For the first gurus of the dream, constancy and regularity were the key.

John Wesley, leader of the Methodist movement, echoed the opinions of his seventeenth-century ancestors when he advised his followers: “leave things pending for the next day, keep your schedule or everything is over.”

Such was the importance of regular sleep in the modern psyche that, along with air, diet, excretion, exercise and the passions of the mind, was considered one of the six key ingredients to balance the four humors of the body: phlegm , blood, black bile and yellow bile. It was believed that this helped maintain long-term physical and mental health.

Having a regular sleep schedule was also considered an important barometer of a person’s reputation and spiritual health . Those who kept erratic sleep hours, or who slept too long, invited a variety of insults.

Elizabeth Livingston, 15, a lady of Queen Catherine of Braganza, wife of Carlos II, called herself “Soloman’s lazy” when she confessed to “stay in bed until noon.”

Elizabeth was clearly afraid that this habit was damaging the health of her body and soul.


Sleeping girl
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2. Eat early

For our ancestors, the secret of a good night’s sleep was in the contents of their bowels.

We know the qualities of caffeine since we drink it. Already in the seventeenth century, French pharmacist Philippe Sylvestre Dufour declared that tea and coffee should be avoided before going to bed, noting that they were only useful for those “who studied at night”.

But our ancestors believed that food and drink could cure sleep deprivation , and also cause it.

They appreciated the lettuce soup for its soporific qualities and, often, they took a hot and milky drink known as “posset”, common at bedtime, that strengthened the stomach with a “cover” of dairy products.

The first modern medical advice established close links between healthy dream and healthy digestion.

Clock on a plate.
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Image caption The secret to a good night’s sleep can be in what you eat and at what time you eat it.

In his 1534 book, Castel of Helth, the lawyer and humanist scholar Sir Thomas Elyot stated: “digestion is best done during sleep, the body relaxes, the mind becomes more calm and clear, and humor is tempered” .

It was also believed that adopting a correct sleeping posture accelerated digestion. It was advised to sleep with the head raised to create a downward slope towards the stomach, thus avoiding the regurgitation of food.

He also encouraged to alternate the position during the night. Resting first on the right side allowed food to easily fall to the stomach.

Turning to the left side, colder, after a few hours, released the stomach vapors that had accumulated to the right and distributed heat more evenly throughout the body.

3. Sleep in your own bed

Never underestimate the power of a safe, relaxing and, above all, familiar resting environment.


Illustration of the bedroom of the wife of a sultan.
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Image caption For our modern ancestors, the beds were appreciated because they had important social, ritual and emotional functions.

“Someone has been sleeping in my bed!”

As this famous line of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” reveals, we all appreciate the safety, familiarity and comfort that comes with sleeping in our own bed.

And it is not taken very kindly when that space is violated. This is as true today as it was when Robert Southey’s celebrated fairy tale became popular in the 1830s.

The beds were appreciated because they had important social, ritual and emotional functions , besides being places of comfort and security.

Our modern ancestors often slept in beds and under textiles that had been transmitted through their families, or that had given them for marriage or the birth of a child.

The women made or decorated sheets, bedspreads and quilts for their loved ones, and, in doing so, they gave the bedclothes a great sentimental value .

It is no wonder that the British writer Alice Thornton fought tooth and nail against the court appraisers in the 1660s to maintain possession of the scarlet bed her mother had given her.

This was the bed on which Alice and her offspring had recovered from childhood diseases, and in which Alice had mourned the death of her husband, William.


Man in bed trying to sleep.
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Image caption Have you heard about the “first night effect”?

This seventeenth-century obsession with familiarity seems to be supported by science. Sleep researchers have always been aware of the “first night effect” : the idea that people sleep badly in unfamiliar surroundings.

Scientists now believe that this is because half of the brain is on “night watch,” sleeping lightly in case the new environment is unsafe.

4. Lower the temperature

One of the best ways to sleep at night is to lower the temperature.

Modern sleep experts believe that there is an optimal room temperature for sleep well: 18.5 ° C . It is possible that our ancestors did not have access to such precise data, but that did not prevent them from being very aware that excessive heat is not a friend of the dream.

Climate apparatus.
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Image caption Experts believe that the ideal temperature for a good sleep is 18.5 ° C.

So, what did they do to keep their rooms cool? They opened doors and windows, to ensure a constant flow of air , and sweetened that air with the scent of rose and oregano.

They also appreciated the linen sheets for the refreshing feeling they offered in the bed.

Flax provided the additional benefit of protecting the sleepers of three small but powerful enemies of the dream: bugs, flies and fleas.

These, wrote the eighteenth-century Irish writer Oliver Goldsmith, had an incomparable ability to “banish that dream that even pain and anxiety allowed to approach.”

If the sheets failed, then the owners of the houses could implement several recipes to clean their beds and fumigate the mattresses. Hannah Glasse, author of Servant’s Directory , or House-Keeper’s Companion (1760), a work on how to manage the home, advised people living in swampy areas to hang pieces of cow dung at the foot of the bed to keep them at bay to the insects.

5. Natural sleeping pills

In the modern era, home remedies were a key weapon in the war against lack of sleep.

When the dream escapes us, many of us seek solace in sleeping pills. That action was not available for the first insomniacs. But that does not mean they did not have options, they just had to be a little more creative.

Home sleep remedies made up an important part of the home’s stock of medicines, and it was precisely in the home where most episodes of sleep loss were treated with recipes tested and passed down through generations.


Recipe illustration of home remedies.
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Image caption Sometimes for a good dream you just have to get creative in the kitchen.

A recipe book signed by Elizabeth Jacobs in 1654 included four remedies for the loss of sleep. One was designed “to make a man sleep,” and mixed the key ingredient of poppy seeds with beer, white wine or fortified wine, depending on the age of the patient.

The less potent remedies included chamomile flowers , rose petals, lavender, cucumber or lettuce distillations , which could be swallowed or applied externally to cool the head, neck or stomach.

A recipe from around 1710 recommended mixing red rose leaves, milk and a slice of nutmeg, putting the mixture on a piece of cloth and applying it “on each temple” before going to bed.

The dried leaves of rose were also used to fill pillows and mattresses, and they spread among the sheets to produce a “sweet and pleasant” aroma.

Many of these drowsy ingredients were grown at home, so the next time you have trouble sleeping, you might consider whether your garden could offer you some help.

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Rava Desk

Rava is an online news portal providing recent news, editorials, opinions and advice on day to day happenings in Pakistan.


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