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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March 30, 2009 - 10:50am
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