Sleep and The Four Situations of a System by@erasmusdarwin

Sleep and The Four Situations of a System

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here are four situations of our system, which in their moderate degrees are not usually termed diseases, and yet abound with many very curious and instructive phenomena; these are sleep, reverie, vertigo, drunkenness. These we shall previously consider, before we step forwards to develop the causes and cures of diseases with the modes of the operation of medicines.
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Erasmus Darwin

Zoonomia; Or, the Laws of Organic Life

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Zoonomia, Vol. I Or, the Laws of Organic Life by Erasmus Darwin is part of HackerNoon’s Book Blog Post series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here: [LINK TO TABLE OF LINK]. Section XVIII: Of Sleep


1. There are four situations of our system, which in their moderate degrees are not usually termed diseases, and yet abound with many very curious and instructive phenomena; these are sleep, reverie, vertigo, drunkenness. These we shall previously consider, before we step forwards to develop the causes and cures of diseases with the modes of the operation of medicines.

As all those trains and tribes of animal motion, which are subjected to volition, were the last that were caused, their connection is weaker than that of the other classes; and there is a peculiar circumstance attending this causation, which is, that it is entirely suspended during sleep; whilst the other classes of motion, which are more immediately necessary to life, as those caused by internal stimuli, for instance the pulsations of the heart and arteries, or those catenated with pleasurable sensation, as the powers of digestion, continue to strengthen their habits without interruption. Thus though man in his sleeping state is a much less perfect animal, than in his waking hours; and though he consumes more than one third of his life in this his irrational situation; yet is the wisdom of the Author of nature manifest even in this seeming imperfection of his work!

The truth of this assertion with respect to the large muscles of the body, which are concerned in locomotion, is evident; as no one in perfect sanity walks about in his sleep, or performs any domestic offices: and in respect to the mind, we never exercise our reason or recollection in dreams; we may sometimes seem distracted between contending passions, but we never compare their objects, or deliberate about the acquisition of those objects, if our sleep is perfect. And though many synchronous tribes or successive trains of ideas may represent the houses or walks, which have real existence, yet are they here introduced by their connection with our sensations, and are in truth ideas of imagination, not of recollection.

2. For our sensations of pleasure and pain are experienced with great vivacity in our dreams; and hence all that motley group of ideas, which are caused by them, called the ideas of imagination, with their various associated trains, are in a very vivid manner acted over in the sensorium; and these sometimes call into action the larger muscles, which have been much associated with them; as appears from the muttering sentences, which some people utter in their dreams, and from the obscure barking of sleeping dogs, and the motions of their feet and nostrils.

This perpetual flow of the trains of ideas, which constitute our dreams, and which are caused by painful or pleasurable sensation, might at first view be conceived to be an useless expenditure of sensorial power. But it has been shewn, that those motions, which are perpetually excited, as those of the arterial system by the stimulus of the blood, are attended by a great accumulation of sensorial power, after they have been for a time suspended; as the hot-fit of fever is the consequence of the cold one. Now as these trains of ideas caused by sensation are perpetually excited during our waking hours, if they were to be suspended in sleep like the voluntary motions, (which are exerted only by intervals during our waking hours,) an accumulation of sensorial power would follow; and on our awaking a delirium would supervene, since these ideas caused by sensation would be produced with such energy, that we should mistake the trains of imagination for ideas excited by irritation; as perpetually happens to people debilitated by fevers on their first awaking; for in these fevers with debility the general quantity of irritation being diminished, that of sensation is increased. In like manner if the actions of the stomach, intestines, and various glands, which are perhaps in part at least caused by or catenated with agreeable sensation, and which perpetually exist during our waking hours, were like the voluntary motions suspended in our sleep; the great accumulation of sensorial power, which would necessarily follow, would be liable to excite inflammation in them.

3. When by our continued posture in sleep, some uneasy sensations are produced, we either gradually awake by the exertion of volition, or the muscles connected by habit with such sensations alter the position of the body; but where the sleep is uncommonly profound, and those uneasy sensations great, the disease called the incubus, or nightmare, is produced. Here the desire of moving the body is painfully exerted, by the power of moving it, or volition, is incapable of action, till we awake. Many less disagreeable struggles in our dreams, as when we wish in vain to fly from terrifying objects, constitute a slighter degree of this disease. In awaking from the nightmare I have more than once observed, that there was no disorder in my pulse; nor do I believe the respiration is laborious, as some have affirmed. It occurs to people whose sleep is too profound, and some disagreeable sensation exists, which at other times would have awakened them, and have thence prevented the disease of nightmare; as after great fatigue or hunger with too large a supper and wine, which occasion our sleep to be uncommonly profound. See No. 14, of this Section.

4. As the larger muscles of the body are much more frequently excited by volition than by sensation, they are but seldom brought into action in our sleep: but the ideas of the mind are by habit much more frequently connected with sensation than with volition; and hence the ceaseless flow of our ideas in dreams. Every one's experience will teach him this truth, for we all daily exert much voluntary muscular motion: but few of mankind can bear the fatigue of much voluntary thinking.

5. A very curious circumstance attending these our sleeping imaginations is, that we seem to receive them by the senses. The muscles, which are subservient to the external organs of sense, are connected with volition, and cease to act in sleep; hence the eyelids are closed, and the tympanum of the ear relaxed; and it is probable a similarity of voluntary exertion may be necessary for the perceptions of the other nerves of sense; for it is observed that the papillæ of the tongue can be seen to become erected, when we attempt to taste any thing extremely grateful. Hewson Exper. Enquir. V. 2. 186. Albini Annot. Acad. L. i. c. 15. Add to this, that the immediate organs of sense have no objects to excite them in the darkness and silence of the night, but their nerves of sense nevertheless continue to possess their perfect activity subservient to all their numerous sensitive connections. This vivacity of our nerves of sense during the time of sleep is evinced by a circumstance, which almost every one must at some time or other have experienced; that is, if we sleep in the daylight, and endeavour to see some object in our dream, the light is exceedingly painful to our eyes; and after repeated struggles we lament in our sleep, that we cannot see it. In this case I apprehend the eyelid is in some degree opened by the vehemence of our sensations; and, the iris being dilated, the optic nerve shews as great or greater sensibility than in our waking hours. See No. 15. of this Section.

When we are forcibly waked at midnight from profound sleep, our eyes are much dazzled with the light of the candle for a minute or two, after there has been sufficient time allowed for the contraction of the iris; which is owing to the accumulation of sensorial power in the organ of vision during its state of less activity. But when we have dreamt much of visible objects, this accumulation of sensorial power in the organ of vision is lessened or prevented, and we awake in the morning without being dazzled with the light, after the iris has had time to contract itself. This is a matter of great curiosity, and may be thus tried by any one in the day-light. Close your eyes, and cover them with your hat; think for a minute on a tune, which you are accustomed to, and endeavour to sing it with as little activity of mind as possible. Suddenly uncover and open your eyes, and in one second of time the iris will contract itself, but you will perceive the day more luminous for several seconds, owing to the accumulation of sensorial power in the optic nerve.

Then again close and cover your eyes, and think intensely on a cube of ivory two inches diameter, attending first to the north and south sides of it, and then to the other four sides of it; then get a clear image in your mind's eye of all the sides of the same cube coloured red; and then of it coloured green; and then of it coloured blue; lastly, open your eyes as in the former experiment, and after the first second of time allowed for the contraction of the iris, you will not perceive any increase of the light of the day, or dazzling; because now there is no accumulation of sensorial power in the optic nerve; that having been expended by its action in thinking over visible objects.

This experiment is not easy to be made at first, but by a few patient trials the fact appears very certain; and shews clearly, that our ideas of imagination are repetitions of the motions of the nerve, which were originally occasioned by the stimulus of external bodies; because they equally expend the sensorial power in the organ of sense. See Sect. III. 4. which is analogous to our being as much fatigued by thinking as by labour.

6. Nor is it in our dreams alone, but even in our waking reveries, and in great efforts of invention, so great is the vivacity of our ideas, that we do not for a time distinguish them from the real presence of substantial objects; though the external organs of sense are open, and surrounded with their usual stimuli. Thus whilst I am thinking over the beautiful valley, through which I yesterday travelled, I do not perceive the furniture of my room: and there are some, whose waking imaginations are so apt to run into perfect reverie, that in their common attention to a favourite idea they do not hear the voice of the companion, who accosts them, unless it is repeated with unusual energy.

This perpetual mistake in dreams and reveries, where our ideas of imagination are attended with a belief of the presence of external objects, evinces beyond a doubt, that all our ideas are repetitions of the motions of the nerves of sense, by which they were acquired; and that this belief is not, as some late philosophers contend, an instinct necessarily connected only with our perceptions.

7. A curious question demands our attention in this place; as we do not distinguish in our dreams and reveries between our perceptions of external objects, and our ideas of them in their absence, how do we distinguish them at any time? In a dream, if the sweetness of sugar occurs to my imagination, the whiteness and hardness of it, which were ideas usually connected with the sweetness, immediately follow in the train; and I believe a material lump of sugar present before my senses: but in my waking hours, if the sweetness occurs to my imagination, the stimulus of the table to my hand, or of the window to my eye, prevents the other ideas of the hardness and whiteness of the sugar from succeeding; and hence I perceive the fallacy, and disbelieve the existence of objects correspondent to those ideas, whose tribes or trains are broken by the stimulus of other objects. And further in our waking hours, we frequently exert our volition in comparing present appearances with such, as we have usually observed; and thus correct the errors of one sense by our general knowledge of nature by intuitive analogy. See Sect. XVII. 3. 7. Whereas in dreams the power of volition is suspended, we can recollect and compare our present ideas with none of our acquired knowledge, and are hence incapable of observing any absurdities in them.

By this criterion we distinguish our waking from our sleeping hours, we can voluntarily recollect our sleeping ideas, when we are awake, and compare them with our waking ones; but we cannot in our sleep voluntarily recollect our waking ideas at all.

8. The vast variety of scenery, novelty of combination, and distinctness of imagery, are other curious circumstances of our sleeping imaginations. The variety of scenery seems to arise from the superior activity and excellence of our sense of vision; which in an instant unfolds to the mind extensive fields of pleasurable ideas; while the other senses collect their objects slowly, and with little combination; add to this, that the ideas, which this organ presents us with, are more frequently connected with our sensation than those of any other.

9. The great novelty of combination is owing to another circumstance; the trains of ideas, which are carried on in our waking thoughts, are in our dreams dissevered in a thousand places by the suspension of volition, and the absence of irritative ideas, and are hence perpetually falling into new catenations. As explained in Sect. XVII. 1. 9. For the power of volition is perpetually exerted during our waking hours in comparing our passing trains of ideas with our acquired knowledge of nature, and thus forms many intermediate links in their catenation. And the irritative ideas excited by the stimulus of the objects, with which we are surrounded, are every moment intruded upon us, and form other links of our unceasing catenations of ideas.

10. The absence of the stimuli of external bodies, and of volition, in our dreams renders the organs of sense liable to be more strongly affected by the powers of sensation, and of association. For our desires or aversions, or the obtrusions of surrounding bodies, dissever the sensitive and associate tribes of ideas in our waking hours by introducing those of irritation and volition amongst them. Hence proceeds the superior distinctness of pleasurable or painful imagery in our sleep; for we recal the figure and the features of a long lost friend, whom we loved, in our dreams with much more accuracy and vivacity than in our waking thoughts. This circumstance contributes to prove, that our ideas of imagination are reiterations of those motions of our organs of sense, which were excited by external objects; because while we are exposed to the stimuli of present objects, our ideas of absent objects cannot be so distinctly formed.

11. The rapidity of the succession of transactions in our dreams is almost inconceivable; insomuch that, when we are accidentally awakened by the jarring of a door, which is opened into our bed-chamber, we sometimes dream a whole history of thieves or fire in the very instant of awaking.

During the suspension of volition we cannot compare our other ideas with those of the parts of time in which they exist; that is, we cannot compare the imaginary scene, which is before us, with those changes of it, which precede or follow it: because this act of comparing requires recollection or voluntary exertion. Whereas in our waking hours, we are perpetually making this comparison, and by that means our waking ideas are kept confident with each other by intuitive analogy; but this companion retards the succession of them, by occasioning their repetition. Add to this, that the transactions of our dreams consist chiefly of visible ideas, and that a whole history of thieves and fire may be beheld in an instant of time like the figures in a picture.

12. From this incapacity of attending to the parts of time in our dreams, arises our ignorance of the length of the night; which, but from our constant experience to the contrary, we should conclude was but a few minutes, when our sleep is perfect. The same happens in our reveries; thus when we are possessed with vehement joy, grief, or anger, time appears short, for we exert no volition to compare the present scenery with the past or future; but when we are compelled to perform those exercises of mind or body, which, are unmixed with passion, as in travelling over a dreary country, time appears long; for our desire to finish our journey occasions us more frequently to compare our present situation with the parts of time or place, which are before and behind us.

So when we are enveloped in deep contemplation of any kind, or in reverie, as in reading a very interesting play or romance, we measure time very inaccurately; and hence, if a play greatly affects our passions, the absurdities of passing over many days or years, and or perpetual changes of place, are not perceived by the audience; as is experienced by every one, who reads or sees some plays of the immortal Shakespear; but it is necessary for inferior authors to observe those rules of the πιθανον and πρεπον inculcated by Aristotle, because their works do not interest the passions sufficiently to produce complete reverie.

Those works, however, whether a romance or a sermon, which do not interest us so much as to induce reverie, may nevertheless incline us to sleep. For those pleasurable ideas, which are presented to us, and are too gentle to excite laughter, (which is attended with interrupted voluntary exertions, as explained Sect. XXXIV. 1. 4.) and which are not accompanied with any other emotion, which usually excites some voluntary exertion, as anger, or fear, are liable to produce sleep; which consists in a suspension of all voluntary power. But if the ideas thus presented to us, and interest our attention, are accompanied with so much pleasurable or painful sensation as to excite our voluntary exertion at the same time, reverie is the consequence. Hence an interesting play produces reverie, a tedious one produces sleep: in the latter we become exhausted by attention, and are not excited to any voluntary exertion, and therefore sleep; in the former we are excited by some emotion, which prevents by its pain the suspension of volition, and in as much as it interests us, induces reverie, as explained in the next Section.

But when our sleep is imperfect, as when we have determined to rise in half an hour, time appears longer to us than in most other situations. Here our solicitude not to oversleep the determined time induces us in this imperfect sleep to compare the quick changes of imagined scenery with the parts of time or place, they would have taken up, had they real exigence; and that more frequently than in our waking hours; and hence the time appears longer to us: and I make no doubt, but the permitted time appears long to a man going to the gallows, as the fear of its quick lapse will make him think frequently about it.

13. As we gain our knowledge of time by comparing the present scenery with the past and future, and of place by comparing the situations of objects with each other; so we gain our idea of consciousness by comparing ourselves with the scenery around us; and of identity by comparing our present consciousness with our past consciousness: as we never think of time or place, but when we make the companions above mentioned, so we never think of consciousness, but when we compare our own existence with that of other objects; nor of identity, but when we compare our present and our past consciousness. Hence the consciousness of our own existence, and of our identity, is owing to a voluntary exertion of our minds: and on that account in our complete dreams we neither measure time, are surprised at the sudden changes of place, nor attend to our own existence, or identity; because our power of volition is suspended. But all these circumstances are more or less observable in our incomplete ones; for then we attend a little to the lapse of time, and the changes of place, and to our own existence; and even to our identity of person; for a lady seldom dreams, that she is a soldier; nor a man, that he is brought to bed.

14. As long as our sensations only excite their sensual motions, or ideas, our sleep continues sound; but as soon as they excite desires or aversions, our sleep becomes imperfect; and when that desire or aversion is so strong, as to produce voluntary motions, we begin to awake; the larger muscles of the body are brought into action to remove that irritation or sensation, which a continued posture has caused; we stretch our limbs, and yawn, and our sleep is thus broken by the accumulation of voluntary power.

Sometimes it happens, that the act of waking is suddenly produced, and this soon after the commencement of sleep; which is occasioned by some sensation so disagreeable, as instantaneously to excite the power of volition; and a temporary action of all the voluntary motions suddenly succeeds, and we start awake. This is sometimes accompanied with loud noise in the ears, and with some degree of fear; and when it is in great excess, so as to produce continued convulsive motions of those muscles, which are generally subservient to volition, it becomes epilepsy: the fits of which in some patients generally commence during sleep. This differs from the night-mare described in No. 3. of this Section, because in that the disagreeable sensation is not so great as to excite the power of volition into action; for as soon as that happens, the disease ceases.

Another circumstance, which sometimes awakes people soon after the commencement of their sleep, is where the voluntary power is already so great in quantity as almost to prevent them from falling asleep, and then a little accumulation of it soon again awakens them; this happens in cases of insanity, or where the mind has been lately much agitated by fear or anger. There is another circumstance in which sleep is likewise of short duration, which arises from great debility, as after great over-fatigue, and in some fevers, where the strength of the patient is greatly diminished, as in these cases the pulse intermits or flutters, and the respiration is previously affected, it seems to originate from the want of some voluntary efforts to facilitate respiration, as when we are awake. And is further treated of in Vol. II. Class I. 2. 1. 2. on the Diseases of the Voluntary Power. Art. Somnus interruptus.

15. We come now to those motions which depend on irritation. The motions of the arterial and glandular systems continue in our sleep, proceeding slower indeed, but stronger and more uniformly, than in our waking hours, when they are incommoded by external stimuli, or by the movements of volition; the motions of the muscles subservient to respiration continue to be stimulated into action, and the other internal senses of hunger, thirst, and lust, are not only occasionally excited in our sleep, but their irritative motions are succeeded by their usual sensations, and make a part of the farrago of our dreams. These sensations of the want of air, of hunger, thirst, and lust, in our dreams, contribute to prove, that the nerves of the external senses are also alive and excitable in our sleep; but as the stimuli of external objects are either excluded from them by the darkness and silence of the night, or their access to them is prevented by the suspension of volition, these nerves of sense fall more readily into their connexions with sensation and with association; because much sensorial power, which during the day was expended in moving the external organs of sense in consequence of irritation from external stimuli, or in consequence of volition, becomes now in some degree accumulated, and renders the internal or immediate organs of sense more easily excitable by the other sensorial powers. Thus in respect to the eye, the irritation from external stimuli, and the power of volition during our waking hours, elevate the eye-lids, adapt the aperture of the iris to the quantity of light, the focus of the crystalline humour, and the angle of the optic axises to the distance of the object, all which perpetual activity during the day expends much sensorial power, which is saved during our sleep.

Hence it appears, that not only those parts of the system, which are always excited by internal stimuli, as the stomach, intestinal canal, bile-ducts, and the various glands, but the organs of sense also may be more violently excited into action by the irritation from internal stimuli, or by sensation, during our sleep than in our waking hours; because during the suspension of volition, there is a greater quantity of the spirit of animation to be expended by the other sensorial powers. On this account our irritability to internal stimuli, and our sensibility to pain or pleasure, is not only greater in sleep, but increases as our sleep is prolonged. Whence digestion and secretion are performed better in sleep, than in our waking hours, and our dreams in the morning have greater variety and vivacity, as our sensibility increases, than at night when we first lie down. And hence epileptic fits, which are always occasioned by some disagreeable sensation, so frequently attack those, who are subject to them, in their sleep; because at this time the system is more excitable by painful sensation in consequence of internal stimuli; and the power of volition is then suddenly exerted to relieve this pain, as explained Sect. XXXIV. 1. 4.

There is a disease, which frequently affects children in the cradle, which is termed ecstasy, and seems to consist in certain exertions to relieve painful sensation, in which the voluntary power is not so far excited as totally to awaken them, and yet is sufficient to remove the disagreeable sensation, which excites it; in this case changing the posture of the child frequently relieves it.

I have at this time under my care an elegant young man about twenty-two years of age, who seldom sleeps more than an hour without experiencing a convulsion fit; which ceases in about half a minute without any subsequent stupor. Large doses of opium only prevented the paroxysms, so long as they prevented him from sleeping by the intoxication, which they induced. Other medicines had no effect on him. He was gently awakened every half hour for one night, but without good effect, as he soon slept again, and the fit returned at about the same periods of time, for the accumulated sensorial power, which occasioned the increased sensibility to pain, was not thus exhausted. This case evinces, that the sensibility of the system to internal excitation increases, as our sleep is prolonged; till the pain thus occasioned produces voluntary exertion; which, when it is in its usual degree, only awakens us; but when it is more violent, it occasions convulsions.

The cramp in the calf of the leg is another kind of convulsion, which generally commences in sleep, occasioned by the continual increase of irritability from internal stimuli, or of sensibility, during that state of our existence. The cramp is a violent exertion to relieve pain, generally either of the skin from cold, or of the bowels, as in some diarrhœas, or from the muscles having been previously overstretched, as in walking up or down steep hills. But in these convulsions of the muscles, which form the calf of the leg, the contraction is so violent as to occasion another pain in consequence of their own too violent contraction; as soon as the original pain, which caused the contraction, is removed. And hence the cramp, or spasm, of these muscles is continued without intermission by this new pain, unlike the alternate convulsions and remissions in epileptic fits. The reason, that the contraction of these muscles of the calf of the leg is more violent during their convulsion than that of others, depends on the weakness of their antagonist muscles; for after these have been contracted in their usual action, as at every step in walking, they are again extended, not, as most other muscles are, by their antagonists, but by the weight of the whole body on the balls of the toes; and that weight applied to great mechanical advantage on the heel, that is, on the other end of the bone of the foot, which thus acts as a lever.

Another disease, the periods of which generally commence during our sleep, is the asthma. Whatever may be the remote cause of paroxysms of asthma, the immediate cause of the convulsive respiration, whether in the common asthma, or in what is termed the convulsive asthma, which are perhaps only different degrees of the same disease, must be owing to violent voluntary exertions to relieve pain, as in other convulsions; and the increase of irritability to internal stimuli, or of sensibility, during sleep must occasion them to commence at this time.

Debilitated people, who have been unfortunately accustomed to great ingurgitation of spirituous potation, frequently part with a great quantity of water during the night, but with not more than usual in the day-time. This is owing to a beginning torpor of the absorbent system, and precedes anasarca, which commences in the day, but is cured in the night by the increase of the irritability of the absorbent system during sleep, which thus imbibes from the cellular membrane the fluids, which had been accumulated there during the day; though it is possible the horizontal position of the body may contribute something to this purpose, and also the greater irritability of some branches of the absorbent vessels, which open their mouths in the cells of the cellular membrane, than that of other branches.

As soon as a person begins to sleep, the irritability and sensibility of the system begins to increase, owing to the suspension of volition and the exclusion of external stimuli. Hence the actions of the vessels in obedience to internal stimulation become stronger and more energetic, though less frequent in respect to number. And as many of the secretions are increased, so the heat of the system is gradually increased, and the extremities of feeble people, which had been cold during the day, become warm. Till towards morning many people become so warm, as to find it necessary to throw off some of their bed-clothes, as soon as they awake; and in others sweats are so liable to occur towards morning during their sleep.

Thus those, who are not accustomed to sleep in the open air, are very liable to take cold, if they happen to fall asleep on a garden bench, or in a carriage with the window open. For as the system is warmer during sleep, as above explained, if a current of cold air affects any part of the body, a torpor of that part is more effectually produced, as when a cold blast of air through a key-hole or casement falls upon a person in a warm room. In those cases the affected part possesses less irritability in respect to heat, from its having previously been exposed to a greater stimulus of heat, as in the warm room, or during sleep; and hence, when the stimulus of heat is diminished, a torpor is liable to ensue; that is, we take cold. Hence people who sleep in the open air, generally feel chilly both at the approach of sleep, and on their awaking; and hence many people are perpetually subject to catarrhs if they sleep in a less warm head-dress, than that which they wear in the day.

16. Not only the sensorial powers of irritation and of sensation, but that of association also appear to act with greater vigour during the suspension of volition in sleep. It will be shewn in another place, that the gout generally first attacks the liver, and that afterwards an inflammation of the ball of the great toe commences by association, and that of the liver ceases. Now as this change or metastasis of the activity of the system generally commences in sleep, it follows, that these associations of motion exist with greater energy at that time; that is, that the sensorial faculty of association, like those of irritation and of sensation, becomes in some measure accumulated during the suspension of volition.

Other associate tribes and trains of motions, as well as the irritative and sensitive ones, appear to be increased in their activity during the suspension of volition in sleep. As those which contribute to circulate the blood, and to perform the various secretions; as well as the associate tribes and trains of ideas, which contribute to furnish the perpetual dreams of our dreaming imaginations.

In sleep the secretions have generally been supposed to be diminished, as the expectorated mucus in coughs, the fluids discharged in diarrhœas, and in salivation, except indeed the secretion of sweat, which is often visibly increased. This error seems to have arisen from attention to the excretions rather than to the secretions. For the secretions, except that of sweat, are generally received into reservoirs, as the urine into the bladder, and the mucus of the intestines and lungs into their respective cavities; but these reservoirs do not exclude these fluids immediately by their stimulus, but require at the same time some voluntary efforts, and therefore permit them to remain during sleep. And as they thus continue longer in those receptacles in our sleeping hours, a greater part is absorbed from them, and the remainder becomes thicker, and sometimes in less quantity, though at the time it was secreted the fluid was in greater quantity than in our waking hours. Thus the urine is higher coloured after long sleep; which shews that a greater quantity has been secreted, and that more of the aqueous and saline part has been reabsorbed, and the earthy part left in the bladder; hence thick urine in fevers shews only a greater action of the vessels which secrete it in the kidneys, and of those which absorb it from the bladder.

The same happens to the mucus expectorated in coughs, which is thus thickened by absorption of its aqueous and saline parts; and the same of the feces of the intestines. From hence it appears, and from what has been said in No. 15. of this Section concerning the increase of irritability and of sensibility during sleep, that the secretions are in general rather increased than diminished during these hours of our existence; and it is probable that nutrition is almost entirely performed in sleep; and that young animals grow more at this time than in their waking hours, as young plants have long since been observed to grow more in the night, which is their time of sleep.

17. Two other remarkable circumstances of our dreaming ideas are their inconsistency, and the total absence of surprise. Thus we seem to be present at more extraordinary metamorphoses of animals or trees, than are to be met with in the fables of antiquity; and appear to be transported from place to place, which seas divide, as quickly as the changes of scenery are performed in a play-house; and yet are not sensible of their inconsistency, nor in the least degree affected with surprise.

We must consider this circumstance more minutely. In our waking trains of ideas, those that are inconsistent with the usual order of nature, so rarely have occurred to us, that their connexion is the slightest of all others: hence, when a consistent train of ideas is exhausted, we attend to the external stimuli, that usually surround us, rather than to any inconsistent idea, which might otherwise present itself; and if an inconsistent idea should intrude itself, we immediately compare it with the preceding one, and voluntarily reject the train it would introduce; this appears further in the Section on Reverie, in which state of the mind external stimuli are not attended to, and yet the streams of ideas are kept consistent by the efforts of volition. But as our faculty of volition is suspended, and all external stimuli are excluded in sleep, this slighter connexion of ideas takes place; and the train is said to be inconsistent; that is, dissimilar to the usual order of nature.

But, when any consistent train of sensitive or voluntary ideas is flowing along, if any external stimulus affects us so violently, as to intrude irritative ideas forcibly into the mind, it disunites the former train of ideas, and we are affected with surprise. These stimuli of unusual energy or novelty not only disunite our common trains of ideas, but the trains of muscular motions also, which have not been long established by habit, and disturb those that have. Some people become motionless by great surprise, the fits of hiccup and or ague have been often removed by it, and it even affects the movements of the heart, and arteries; but in our sleep, all external stimuli are excluded, and in consequence no surprise can exist. See Section XVII. 3. 7.

18. We frequently awake with pleasure from a dream, which has delighted us, without being able to recollect the transactions of it; unless perhaps at a distance of time, some analogous idea may introduce afresh this forgotten train: and in our waking reveries we sometimes in a moment lose the train of thought, but continue to feel the glow of pleasure, or the depression of spirits, it occasioned: whilst at other times we can retrace with ease these histories of our reveries and dreams.

The above explanation of surprise throws light upon this subject. When we are suddenly awaked by any violent stimulus, the surprise totally disunites the trains of our sleeping ideas from these of our waking ones; but if we gradually awake, this does not happen; and we readily unravel the preceding trains of imagination.

19. There are various degrees of surprise; the more intent we are upon the train of ideas, which we are employed about, the more violent must be the stimulus that interrupts them, and the greater is the degree of surprise. I have observed dogs, who have slept by the fire, and by their obscure barking and struggling have appeared very intent on their prey, that shewed great surprise for a few seconds after their awaking by looking eagerly around them; which they did not do at other times of waking. And an intelligent friend of mine has remarked, that his lady, who frequently speaks much and articulately in her sleep, could never recollect her dreams in the morning, when this happened to her: but that when she did not speak in her sleep, she could always recollect them.

Hence, when our sensations act so strongly in sleep as to influence the larger muscles, as in those, who talk or struggle in their dreams; or in those, who are affected with complete reverie (as described in the next Section), great surprise is produced, when they awake; and these as well as those, who are completely drunk or delirious, totally forget afterwards their imaginations at those times.

20. As the immediate cause of sleep consists in the suspension of volition, it follows, that whatever diminishes the general quantity of sensorial power, or derives it from the faculty of volition, will constitute a remote cause of sleep; such as fatigue from muscular or mental exertion, which diminishes the general quantity of sensorial power; or an increase of the sensitive motions, as by attending to soft music, which diverts the sensorial power from the faculty of volition; or lastly, by increase of the irritative motions, as by wine, or food; or warmth; which not only by their expenditure of sensorial power diminish the quantity of volition; but also by their producing pleasureable sensations (which occasion other muscular or sensual motions in consequence), doubly decrease the voluntary power, and thus more forcibly produce sleep. See Sect. XXXIV. 1. 4.

Another method of inducing sleep is delivered in a very ingenious work lately published by Dr. Beddoes. Who, after lamenting that opium frequently occasions restlessness, thinks, "that in most cases it would be better to induce sleep by the abstraction of stimuli, than by exhausting the excitability;" and adds, "upon this principle we could not have a better soporific than an atmosphere with a diminished proportion of oxygene air, and that common air might be admitted after the patient was asleep." (Observ. on Calculus, &c. by Dr. Beddoes, Murray.) If it should be found to be true, that the excitability of the system depends on the quantity of oxygene absorbed by the lungs in respiration according to the theory of Dr. Beddoes, and of M. Girtanner, this idea of sleeping in an atmosphere with less oxygene in its composition might be of great service in epileptic cases, and in cramp, and even in fits of the asthma, where their periods commence from the increase of irritability during sleep.

Sleep is likewise said to be induced by mechanic pressure on the brain in the cases of spina bifida. Where there has been a defect of one of the vertebræ of the back, a tumour is protruded in consequence; and, whenever this tumour has been compressed by the hand, sleep is said to be induced, because the whole of the brain both within the head and spine becomes compressed by the retrocession of the fluid within the tumour. But by what means a compression of the brain induces sleep has not been explained, but probably by diminishing the secretion of sensorial power, and then the voluntary motions become suspended previously to the irritative ones, as occurs in most dying persons.

Another way of procuring sleep mechanically was related to me by Mr. Brindley, the famous canal engineer, who was brought up to the business of a mill-wright; he told me, that he had more than once seen the experiment of a man extending himself across the large stone of a corn-mill, and that by gradually letting the stone whirl, the man fell asleep, before the stone had gained its full velocity, and he supposed would have died without pain by the continuance or increase of the motion. In this case the centrifugal motion of the head and feet must accumulate the blood in both those extremities of the body, and thus compress the brain.

Lastly, we should mention the application of cold; which, when in a less degree, produces watchfulness by the pain it occasions, and the tremulous convulsions of the subcutaneous muscles; but when it is applied in great degree, is said to produce sleep. To explain this effect it has been said, that as the vessels of the skin and extremities become first torpid by the want of the stimulus of heat, and as thence less blood is circulated through them, as appears from their paleness, a greater quantity of blood poured upon the brain produces sleep by its compression of that organ. But I should rather imagine, that the sensorial power becomes exhausted by the convulsive actions in consequence of the pain of cold, and of the voluntary exercise previously used to prevent it, and that the sleep is only the beginning to die, as the suspension of voluntary power in lingering deaths precedes for many hours the extinction of the irritative motions.

21. The following are the characteristic circumstances attending perfect sleep.

1. The power of volition is totally suspended.

2. The trains of ideas caused by sensation proceed with greater facility and vivacity; but become inconsistent with the usual order of nature. The muscular motions caused by sensation continue; as those concerned in our evacuations during infancy, and afterwards in digestion, and in priapismus.

3. The irritative muscular motions continue, as those concerned in the circulation, in secretion, in respiration. But the irritative sensual motions, or ideas, are not excited; as the immediate organs of sense are not stimulated into action by external objects, which are excluded by the external organs of sense; which are not in sleep adapted to their reception by the power of volition, as in our waking hours.

4. The associate motions continue; but their first link is not excited into action by volition, or by external stimuli. In all respects, except those above mentioned, the three last sensorial powers are somewhat increased in energy during the suspension of volition, owing to the consequent accumulation of the spirit of animation.

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Darwin, Erasmus, 2005. Zoonomia, Vol. Or, the Laws of Organic Life. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved May 2022 from

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