I undertook the first experiment on myself many, many years ago.
As a boy of thirteen I left my village in the country and en-tered
the second year of the Gymnasium. After several months I was admitted
to the third year and then after a further six months I entered
the fourth year. I remained there, working through the nights and
thereby unwittingly ruining my health, at the top of the class until
the eighth year of Gymnasium when I, now 18, suffered a complete
collapse as my reserves of corporeal and therefore mental strength
and vigour were exhausted. Due to the influence of my father, an
enthusiastic apostle of science, I was now forced to realize that
the threat of not being able to finish my Abitur on time, or even
at all, was hanging threateningly over my head like the sword of
I would rather have died than not have achieved my certificate,
but as all attempted cures and medicines failed, there was nothing
left for me to do but try to help myself. I slept for longer and
longer periods, missing more and more school lessons in the process,
in order to calm my excited nerves and to strengthen my ruined health.
However, the longer I slept the more incapable, weaker, sicker and
depressed I became. I suffered constantly from acute congestion
of blood to the brain which hardly permitted the forming of a clear
thought, stabbing pains in the chest, perspiring of hands and feet,
and a terrible stagnation of the bowels which could not be alleviated
by any of the many attempted cures.
The skin tone was yellowish and the chest narrow, otherwise my stature
was normal. The doctor diagnosed catarrh of the lungs. The pulse
was rapid, the nervous system excited and intellectual activity
inhibited by congestion and nervous excitation. Digestion was extremely
sluggish; emptying of the bowels occurred sparingly at intervals
of several days. Medicines did not help. I was a pitiable, tormented
creature. Meagre and temporary relief was afforded by water treatments,
but the situation remained otherwise unchanged. As an example of
a miserable, lamentable creature, my state was the obvious consequence
of the pernicious and one-sided development of the intellect which
does not know, or does not want to know, that a strong mind can
only live in a strong body.* What use is it to glorify the harmonious
development and the refined understanding of nature possessed by
the ancient Greeks in school lessons if, in practice, one does not
act in accordance with their example but rather contrary to it?
Necessity is the mother of invention; I therefore decided to shorten
the overlong periods of sleep that were damaging to me. The more
I followed this course, and the earlier I went to bed, the more
traces of improvement were perceptible in the state of my health.
But the strength necessary to meet the demands of the Gymnasium
(which was by no means too "difficult" for me) was still
* Although the Latin saying "mens sana in
corpore sano" still holds good, one must acknowledge that the
mind has often triumphed over a weak or even sickly body. Men such
as Spinoza, Kant or Schiller are proof of this, as well as many
unsung heroes in daily life. Note by A. Tienes.
Fortunately, the thought came to me that, as with everything in
this universe, sleep must also follow strict natural laws and must
thus possess the most invigorating and therefore the most healing
effects. This period of sleep, of which I now began to have an idea,
only needed to be discovered to be my salvation. During long periods
of experiment, in an unheated room - also in winter - I brought
my sleeping time further and further forward towards the hours preceding
midnight. I arose, usually having awakened without out-side help
at 5, 4, 3, 2:30, 1 a.m., midnight as well as at in-between times,
comparing objectively and impartially the effects of the various
One evening, after having unsuccessfully experimented with earlier
bedtimes, I went to sleep shortly before 7 p.m. (the time referred
to is always local or solar time, not standard time, which must
be adjusted accordingly) and slept through until 11:20pm. I woke
up by myself and got up immediately - and then experienced the long-awaited
and hoped-for effect which drove me on to further research with
enthusiasm. All at once new life entered my tormented body: digestion
started up unmistakably; the extreme nervous excitability calmed
itself; the mind became clearer; courage and hope arrived. Full
affinity with the universe had been conjoined, my almost superhuman
struggle had been won. Even though, often hindered or disturbed
by the exigencies of school, I could not always keep to the new
sleeping times, my state of health improved so much owing to pre-midnight
sleep that I was able to complete my Abitur on time.
As a student, in the closest rapport with nature, I rapidly became
as enterprising and vigorous as I had been hesitant and weak before-hand.
For the first semester of my studies, in springtime, I chose a small
university city as suitable to my needs, less for the purpose of
studying than to cure myself. I moved into a small, cheap and fairly
quiet back room owned by a clockmaker. He was occupied with chronological
time, I with natural time. Soon I was healthy enough, weather permitting,
to take a regular walk at one o'clock in the morning. The night
watchman of my quarter with whom I often had some conversation was
surprised to find me completely sober at this late hour while the
students leaving the taverns went staggering through the streets
making a loud racket. Within a short time, I was known to the night
watchmen and other people as a singular character. As soon as approaching
dawn became noticeable I went forth, barefoot, to greet the sun.
For me, every morning was a ceremonial service in the resplendent,
vivid and exhilarating temple of nature under the influence of which
body, soul and mind soon recovered.
When I returned home to my village after this paradisiacal summer
semester, to the amazement of all those who knew me I had become
a new person. I worked at home in the long holidays, which interrupted
my studies regularly in late summer and springtime, on the farm
run by my parents. I worked heartily in the garden, fields, byre
and barn so that I became a strong and stalwart young man who was
confident of his health and strength.
In these holidays the fact became apparent that in order to achieve
the highest degree of physical efficiency, a sleeping period from
7 p.m. to 11:20 p.m. with rising immediately upon awakening was
necessary. If I departed from these times, my efficiency and strength
decreased in direct proportion to the degree of departure from this
schedule. I had the same experience with regard to mental efficiency.
Later, it was no longer necessary for me to adhere to this system
of natural sleep: chronic illness had been replaced with indefatigable
health which withstood the hardest tests. One can understand the
results of this experiment how one will: it is presented as described.
It is a logical development of the experience of thousands of years.