Night cap: Looking for a good night’s sleep?


Miss Nancy and I, along with my little sister B.G. Theiss who is visiting from North Carolina, enjoyed the afternoon at the Farm and Dairy’s recent 100th Anniversary open house at the Salem Community Center. Lots of people, some of whom I’ve not seen in years and many others I’d never met, enjoyed the event. There were lots of historical pictures to look at and many Farm and Dairy items were given away while others were for sale.

The food was good (especially the ham salad sandwiches), and it was fun visiting with all the attendees. It’s not every day that a family owned business reaches the ripe old age of 100, so congratulations to the Darling family and many thanks to Scott and Tom Darling and editor Susan Crowell.


There are many ads on TV for Lunestra, Somnemax, ZzzQuil, and other stuff to help folks with insomnia. Back in 1884 none of these had yet been invented, although I know there were patent medicines on the market then that claimed to cure a host of ills including sleeplessness, but most of these nostrums contained enough alcohol to knock out the average person. In a January, 1884 issue of the The Prairie Farmer, a weekly farm paper that was first published in Chicago in 1841 and is still in business, I found one man’s cure for the debilitating condition of chronic sleeplessness.

The Night Cap

In a late letter to the August Constitution Jas. R. Randall discourses thus pleasantly of the efficiency of the night cap in producing sleep: About 9 o’clock at night we boarded the sleeping coach for Washington. Just before retiring for the night my mind, somehow or other, reverted to an editorial article recently published in the New York Times, half serious, half earnest, concerning the latest theory of an English physician as to the preponderant cause of insomnia and nervous disorders generally.


It may be remembered that to the abandonment of the night cap of our grandfathers (the cotton or flannel article, not the alcoholic) was attributed the modern tendency of sleeplessness that makes even a philosopher like Herbert Spencer more or less of a crank.

What I wanted, and wanted as the fellow did his pistol in Texas, was first-class slumber, just such unmitigated repose as occasionally comes to a highly organized baby, unvexed by colic or pure cussedness. I began to think that perhaps that British doctor was right, and that, if it were possible, I would return to the neglected custom of my ancestors. Just at that moment I plunged my hand into my coat pocket and pulled out a silk smoking-cap—a pretty thing, wrought for me long ago by the dainty, delicate, deft fingers of one who now rests in the graveyard at Augusta. This cap was the very thing. I placed it reverently upon my head, with an act of faith, and lay down. The result was magical. Never since I was a boy can I remember to have experienced so perfect and delicious a repose.

No bad dreams

Not a dream rippled the surface of my calm brain, and I awakened hours afterward with a sense of satisfaction that must be a foretaste of heaven itself. An incipient headache had vanished. Powers of mind that had been dulled were restored to animation and keenness. Not a trace of irascibility remained; but in its place came trooping the sweet angels that Father Faber says continually hover over the good-humored man. I declare that the metamorphosis was so complete that I almost needed an introduction to my new self. And this prodigy was created by one grand, complete and unusual slumber, when wearing a nightcap! Subsequent experiments have been relatively successful; so I am getting to be an enthusiast on the subject. Some folks say that it is a delusion, a mere freak of the imagination. Be it so. If a nightcap can extinguish my imagination at bed-time, thank God for the discovery!

Famous sleeper

My good old mother tells me that when I was a little fellow she used to tie a nightcap under my chin, and that I was a famous sleeper in those times. She is a firm believer in the efficacy. Likely enough if a man eats pickled pig’s feet at midnight or drinks unlimited whisky, even a silk or cotton nightcap may not consign him to the arms of Morpheus; but it may work wonders for a sober person who is cursed with the pestilent habit of conjuring up all manner of odd fancies when his head touches the pillow, instead of dismissing the workmen who hammer on the forges of the brain. I know the majority of men will rather suffer nocturnal horrors than be laughed at for wearing nightcaps; just as the majority of women will prefer to wear shoes that are instruments of disease and torture rather than have their feet shod comfortably and sensibly.

Wisdom or folly

I have a clear idea as to which is the course of wisdom and which the alternative of folly. But this is a diversion which you, readers, may smile at or not as the whim seizes you. So the next time you can’t sleep at night, just don a night cap – never mind how much your wife giggles – and drop off to peaceful slumber. And remember, due to my concern with the wellbeing of my fellow man, this cure for insomnia is brought to you free of charge.

No, no, don’t thank me, I was glad to do it.


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Sam Moore grew up on a family farm in Western Pennsylvania during the late 1930s and the 1940s. Although he left the farm in 1953, it never left him. He now lives near Salem, where he tinkers with a few old tractors, collects old farm literature, and writes about old machinery, farming practices and personal experiences for Farm and Dairy, as well as Farm Collector and Rural Heritage magazines. He has published one book about farm machinery, titled Implements for Farming with Horses and Mules.



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