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Fried Lettuce, Slug Entrails and Other Insomnia Cures

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Today's insomnia cures are slightly more scientific than the back in the day. But they're also less interesting, which is why we've rounded up some of the weirder insomnia treatments handed down through the ages. From what to rub on your feet, to what to line your belly with, here are 6 bizarre prescriptions for when you're tired of counting sheep.

1. Rub Your Feet in Dormouse Fat

In Elizabethan England, people who couldn't sleep would often rub dormouse fat onto the soles of their feet. Why dormouse and why feet has been lost to the ages, however, the dormouse has retained its snoozy image: The dormouse slept through most of the Mad Hatter's Tea Party in Alice in Wonderland.

2. A spoonful of Sea Slug Entrails

Most cultures have their own folk remedy, usually involving food, for putting insomniacs to sleep. I remember when I was a little girl, my mom would make me hot chocolate when I couldn't sleep. Little girls in Japan, however, might have gotten a plate full of sea slug entrails. In France, it could have been fried lettuce and in places in the US, a raw onion.

3. Pay to Hear a Sleep Concert?

A new craze is sweeping Japan and while there's always a new craze sweeping Japan, this one may offer some hope to sleepless office workers. They're called sleep concerts: Basically, you buy a ticket to the concert, plunk yourself down in a comfy seat, and drift off. One such concert, titled "Dreams: Good Sleep Concert," featured major Japanese musicians playing music that had been scientifically tested to induce sleep; a CD of the concert was later sold and won Japan's 22nd annual Gold Disc Award for Best Instrumental Album of the year in 2008.

4. Ancient Ambien

Sleepless Greeks and Egyptians used opium, typically mixed with several other herbs that probably had no effect, to induce sleep. The only problem with opium is the highly addictive nature of the poppy-derived narcotic. But drugs have always played a part in helping people sleep: Cannabis, typically smoked in cigarette form, was a popular sleep aid up through the 19th century. Some, especially those in college or who maybe spent some time touring with the Grateful Dead, might say it still is. And when all else fails, there's the time-honored tradition of drinking until you pass out.

5. Toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble

Potions have long been a part of the insomniac's medicine cabinet. Tinctures made from valerian root, mandrake root, and lettuce seeds are a few of the debatably helpful but generally innocuous variety, whilst the Middle Ages prescription of "drinking a potion made from the gall of a castrated boar" is just gross. Incidentally, the castrated boar juice was also included in a concoction to knock victims "“ er, patients "“ about to undergo surgery in the Middle Ages as well. So many uses for castrated boar gall, who knew?

6. Carry a compass to bed with you

In the Victorian era, people tended to be interested in slightly dubious spiritualist theories, including those involving magnetic fields and their impact on human health. Charles Dickens, who suffered from insomnia and for a time, tried a combination of opium and alcohol that left him with a wicked hangover, ultimately found relief after placing the head of his bed due north.

Ed note: We couldn't have written this article without help from Sean Coughlin's book, The Sleepyhead's Bedside Companion. And the image comes from those wonderful Serta sheep commercials.

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Big Questions
How Long Could a Person Survive With an Unlimited Supply of Water, But No Food at All?
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How long could a person survive if he had unlimited supply of water, but no food at all?

Richard Lee Fulgham:

I happen to know the answer because I have studied starvation, its course, and its utility in committing a painless suicide. (No, I’m not suicidal.)

A healthy human being can live approximately 45 to 65 days without food of any kind, so long as he or she keeps hydrated.

You could survive without any severe symptoms [for] about 30 to 35 days, but after that you would probably experience skin rashes, diarrhea, and of course substantial weight loss.

The body—as you must know—begins eating itself, beginning with adipose tissue (i.e. fat) and next the muscle tissue.

Google Mahatma Gandhi, who starved himself almost to death during 14 voluntary hunger strikes to bring attention to India’s independence movement.

Strangely, there is much evidence that starvation is a painless way to die. In fact, you experience a wonderful euphoria when the body realizes it is about to die. Whether this is a divine gift or merely secretions of the brain is not known.

Of course, the picture is not so pretty for all reports. Some victims of starvation have experienced extreme irritability, unbearably itchy skin rashes, unceasing diarrhea, painful swallowing, and edema.

In most cases, death comes when the organs begin to shut down after six to nine weeks. Usually the heart simply stops.

(Here is a detailed medical report of the longest known fast: 382 days.)

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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Medicine
Why Haven't We Cured Cancer Yet?
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Walkathons, fundraisers, and ribbon-shaped bumper stickers raise research dollars and boost spirits, but cancer—the dreaded disease that affects more than 14 million people and their families at any given time—still remains bereft of a cure.

Why? For starters, cancer isn't just one disease—it's more than 100 of them, with different causes. This makes it impossible to treat each one using a one-size-fits-all method. Secondly, scientists use lab-grown cell lines cultivated from human tumors to develop cancer therapies. Living masses are far more complex, so potential treatments that show promise in lab experiments often don't work on cancer patients. As for the tumors themselves, they're prone to tiny genetic mutations, so just one growth might contain multiple types of cancer cells, and even unique sub-clones of tumors. These distinct entities might not respond the same way, or at all, to the same drug.

These are just a few of the challenges that cancer researchers face—but the good news is that they're working to beat all of them, as this TED-Ed video explains below.

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