Skip to main content
Ages 13+
Under 13
Painting of faint butterflies

A Practical Guide to Having Pleasant Dreams


Benjamin Franklin wrote this list of highly practical advice on how to sleep well and have sweet dreams.

It appears that Benjamin Franklin, one of the most important and dynamic figures in the history of the US, did not only strive to lead diplomatic missions or establish national institutions, or carry out scientific experiments. He also wanted to give the world a kind of behavioral and ‘well-being’ manual that ranges from the very general to the very intimate. And always, of course, under his heavy moral shadow.

We have his advice to procure a lover, which includes some of the most laughable and, to his mind, ‘most sensible’ tips on the theme, and in this case, a fascinating essay that lists advice for having sweet dreams, that is fresh and highly useful and separate from his moral preaching.

“The Art of Procuring Pleasant Dreams,” published in 1786, includes a brief dissertation on the link between physical health and the imagination, and to which Franklin attributes an undeniable power over our wellbeing.

As a great part of our life is spent in sleep, during which we have sometimes pleasant and sometimes painful dreams, it becomes of some consequence to obtain the one kind and avoid the other; for whether real or imaginary, pain is pain and pleasure is pleasure.

Exercise should precede meals, not immediately follow them; the first promotes, the latter, unless moderate, obstructs digestion. If, after exercise, we feed sparingly, the digestion will be easy and good, the body lightsome, the temper cheerful, and all the animal functions performed agreeably. Sleep, when it follows, will be natural and undisturbed, while indolence, with full feeding, occasions nightmares and horrors inexpressible; we fall from precipices, are assaulted by wild beasts, murderers, and demons, and experience every variety of distress.

Observe, however, that the quantities of food and exercise are relative things: those who move much may, and indeed ought to, eat more; those who use little exercise should eat little.

Another means of preserving health to be attended to is the having a constant supply of fresh air in your bedchamber.

It has been a great mistake, the sleeping in rooms exactly closed and the beds surrounded by curtains. No outward air that may come in to you is so unwholesome as the unchanged air, often breathed, of a close chamber.

Franklin expands greatly on this point to imply that, when the body is agitated due to heat, sweat of the lack of fresh air, the mind is immediately disturbed, and disagreeable ideas of various kinds will in sleep be the natural consequences.

1. By eating moderately (as before advised for health’s sake) less perspirable matter is produced in a given time; hence the bedclothes receive it longer before they are saturated, and we may therefore sleep longer before we are made uneasy by their refusing to receive any more.

2. By using thinner and more porous bedclothes, which will suffer the perspirable matter more easily to pass through them, we are less incommoded, such being longer tolerable.

3. When you are awakened by this uneasiness and find you cannot easily sleep again, get out of bed, beat up and turn your pillow, shake the bedclothes well, with at least twenty shakes, then throw the bed open and leave it to cool; in the mean while, continuing undressed, walk about your chamber till your skin has had time to discharge its load, which it will do sooner as the air may be dryer and colder.

When you feel the cold air to be disagreeable, go back to bed and you’ll soon be asleep. All of the scenes presented to your taste will be sweet and pleasant.

He concludes with the premise that one must conserve, above all, a good conscience, in order to sleep well.

Related Articles