Books > The American Woman's Home (1869) > XIV. Early Rising

The American Woman's Home

XIV. Early Rising.

There is no practice which has been more extensively eulogized in all ages than early rising; and this universal impression is an indication that it is founded on true philosophy. For it is rarely the case that the common sense of mankind fastens on a practice as really beneficial, especially one that demands self-denial, without some substantial reason.

This practice, which may justly be called a domestic virtue, is one which has a peculiar claim to be styled American and democratic. The distinctive mark of aristocratic nations is a disregard of the great mass, and a disproportionate regard for the interests of certain privileged orders. All the customs and habits of such a nation are, to a greater or less extent, regulated by this principle. Now the mass of any nation must always consist of persons who labor at occupations which demand the light of day. But in aristocratic countries, especially in England, labor is regarded as the mark of the lower classes, and indolence is considered as one mark of a gentleman. This impression has gradually and imperceptibly, to a great extent, regulated their customs, so that, even in their hours of meals and repose, the higher orders aim at being different and distinct from those who, by laborious pursuits, are placed below them. From this circumstance, while the lower orders labor by day and sleep at night, the rich, the noble, and the honored sleep by day, and follow their pursuits and pleasures by night.

It will be found that the aristocracy of London breakfast near midday, dine after dark, visit and go to Parliament between ten and twelve at night, and retire to sleep toward morning. In consequence of this, the subordinate classes who aim at gentility gradually fall into the same practice. The influence of this custom extends across the ocean, and here, in this democratic land, we find many who measure their grade of gentility by the late hour at which they arrive at a party. And this aristocratic folly is growing upon us, so that, throughout the nation, the hours for visiting and retiring are constantly becoming later, while the hours for rising correspond in lateness.

The question, then, is one which appeals to American women, as a matter of patriotism and as having a bearing on those great principles of democracy which we conceive to be equally the principles of Christianity. Shall we form our customs on the assumption that labor is degrading and indolence genteel? Shall we assume, by our practice, that the interests of the great mass are to be sacrificed for the pleasures and honors of a privileged few? Shall we ape the customs of aristocratic lands, in those very practices which result from principles and institutions that we condemn? Shall we not rather take the place to which we are entitled, as the leaders, rather than the followers, in the customs of society, turn back the tide of aristocratic inroads, and carry through the whole, not only of civil and political but of social and domestic life, the true principles of democratic freedom and equality? The following considerations may serve to strengthen an affirmative decision.

The first relates to the health of a family. It is a universal law of physiology, that all living things flourish best in the light. Vegetables, in a dark cellar, grow pale and spindling. Children brought up in mines are always wan and stunted, while men become pale and cadaverous who live under ground. This indicates the folly of losing the genial influence which the light of day produces on all animated creation.

Sir James Wylie, of the Russian imperial service, states that in the soldiers' barracks, three times as many were taken sick on the shaded side as on the sunny side; though both sides communicated, and discipline, diet, and treatment were the same. The eminent French surgeon, Dupuytren, cured a lady whose complicated diseases baffled for years his own and all other medical skill, by taking her from a dark room to an abundance of daylight.

Florence Nightingale writes: "Second only to fresh air in importance for the sick is light. Not only daylight but direct sunlight is necessary to speedy recovery, except in a small number of cases. Instances, almost endless, could be given where, in dark wards, or wards with only northern exposure, or wards with borrowed light, even when properly ventilated, the sick could not be, by any means, made speedily to recover."

In the prevalence of cholera, it was invariably the case that deaths were more numerous in shaded streets or in houses having only northern exposures than in those having sunlight. Several physicians have stated to the writer that, in sunny exposures, women after childbirth gained strength much faster than those excluded from sunlight. In the writer's experience, great nervous debility has been always immediately lessened by sitting in the sun, and still more by lying on the earth and in open air, a blanket beneath, and head and eyes protected, under the direct rays of the sun.

Some facts in physiology and natural philosophy have a bearing on this subject. It seems to be settled that the red color of blood is owing to iron contained in the red blood-cells, while it is established as a fact that the sun's rays are metallic, having "vapor of iron" as one element. It is also true that want of light causes a diminution of the red and an increase of the imperfect white blood-cells, and that this sometimes results in a disease called leucoemia, while all who live in the dark have pale and waxy skins, and flabby, weak muscles. Thus it would seem that it is the sun that imparts the iron and color to the blood. These things being so, the customs of society that bring sleeping hours into daylight, and working and study hours into the night, are direct violations of the laws of health. The laws of health are the laws of God, and "sin is the transgression of law."

To this we must add the great neglect of economy as well as health in substituting unhealthful gaslight, poisonous, anthracite warmth, for the life-giving light and warmth of the sun. Millions and millions would be saved to this nation in fuel and light, as well as in health, by returning to the good old ways of our forefathers, to rise with the sun, and retire to rest "when the bell rings for nine o'clock."

The observations of medical men, whose inquiries have been directed to this point, have decided that from six to eight hours is the amount of sleep demanded by persons in health. Some constitutions require as much as eight, and others no more than six hours of repose. But eight hours is the maximum for all persons in ordinary health, with ordinary occupations. In cases of extra physical exertions, or the debility of disease, or a decayed constitution, more than this is required. Let eight hours, then, be regarded as the ordinary period required for sleep by an industrious people like the Americans.

It thus appears that the laws of our political condition, the laws ofthe natural world, and the constitution of our bodies, alike demand that we rise with the light of day to prosecute our employments, and that we retire in time for the requisite amount of sleep.

In regard to the effects of protracting the time spent in repose, many extensive and satisfactory investigations have been made. It has been shown that, during sleep, the body perspires most freely, while yet neither food nor exercise are ministering to its wants. Of course, if we continue our slumbers beyond the time required to restore the body to its usual vigor, there is an unperceived undermining of the constitution, by this protracted and debilitating exhalation. This process, in a course of years, readers the body delicate and less able to withstand disease, and in the result shortens life. Sir John Sinclair, who has written a large work on the Causes of Longevity, states, as one result of his extensive investigations, that he has never yet heard or read of a single case of great longevity where the individual was not an early riser. He says that he has found cases in which the individual has violated some one of all the other laws of health, and yet lived to great age; but never a single instance in which any constitution has withstood that undermining consequent on protracting the hours of repose beyond the demands of the system.

Another reason for early rising is, that it is indispensable to a systematic and well-regulated family. At whatever hour the parents retire, children and domestics, wearied by play or labor, must retire early. Children usually awake with the dawn of light, and commence their play, while domestics usually prefer the freshness of morning for their labors. If, then, the parents rise at a late hour, they either induce a habit of protracting sleep in their children and domestics, or else the family are up, and at their pursuits, while their supervisors are in bed.

Any woman who asserts that her children and domestics, in the first hours of day, when their spirits are freshest, will be as well regulated without her presence as with it, confesses that which surely is little for her credit. It is believed that any candid woman, whatever may be her excuse for late rising, will concede that if she could rise early it would be for the advantage of her family. A late breakfast puts back the work, through the whole day, for every member of a family; and if the parents thus occasion the loss of an hour or two to each individual who, but for their delay in the morning, would be usefully employed, they alone are responsible for all this waste of time.

But the practice of early rising has a relation to the general interests of the social community, as well as to that of each distinct family. All that great portion of the community who are employed in business and labor find it needful to rise early; and all their hours of meals, and their appointments for business or pleasure, must be accommodated to these arrangements. Now, if a small portion of the community establish very different hours, it makes a kind of jostling in all the concerns and interests of society. The various appointments for the public, such as meetings, schools, and business hours, must be accommodated to the mass, and not to individuals. The few, then, who establish domestic habits at variance with the majority, are either constantly interrupted in their own arrangements, or else are interfering with the rights and interests of others. This is exemplified in the case of schools. In families where late rising is practiced, either hurry, irregularity, and neglect are engendered in the family, or else the interests of the school, and thus of the community, are sacrificed. In this, and many other matters, it can be shown that the well-being of the bulk of the people is, to a greater or less extent, impaired by this self-indulgent practice. Let any teacher select the unpunctual scholars—a class who most seriously interfere with the interests of the school—and let men of business select those who cause them most waste of time and vexation, by unpunctuality; and it will be found that they are generally among the late risers, and rarely among those who rise early. Thus, late rising not only injures the person and family which indulge in it, but interferes with the rights and convenience of the community; while early rising imparts corresponding benefits of health, promptitude, vigor of action, economy of time, and general effectiveness both to the individuals who practice it and to the families and community of which they are a part.