Weirdest insomnia cure ever?


Dog’s earwax, slug entrails top Calm’s international poll

Next come: drinking bile of castrated boar; rubbing mouse fat on your feet; lathering hair in yellow soap. Two lettuce-based cures in top six.

Rubbing dog’s earwax on your teeth has been voted the strangest insomnia cure ever, heading a strong field of bygone and present cures in an international poll.

The Japanese folk remedy of eating sea slug entrails before bed ranked a close second in the survey of 4,279 Americans and Britons conducted for us as at Calm by pollsters, YouGov.

The medieval European cure of drinking a brew made with the bile of a castrated boar came third, just ahead of rubbing the fat of a dormouse/field mouse on the soles of your feet, as first advocated by the Romans.

There was little to separate the top four cures in the poll, with dog’s earwax gaining a 60% vote, slug entrails 58%, castrated boar 57% and mouse fat 55%.

“Insomnia may be a modern epidemic but it’s far from a new problem,” says Alex Tew, co-founder of Calm. “Everyone from the ancient Egyptians to our medieval ancestors had their own cures.”

Indeed, we at Calm recently launched our own new natural sleep aid, in the form of bedtime stories for grown-ups called Sleep Stories. The 23 initial sleep-inducing tales have been listened to five million times in their first three months.

The idea that smearing your teeth with the earwax of a dog would cure insomnia is credited to Gerolamo Cardano (1501-1576), a doctor and mathematician in Renaissance Italy, whose other credits included being a founder of probability theory.

It proved popular enough that Robert Burton, English author of the 1621 medical work, The Anatomy of Melancholy was still recommending it as a cure almost 50 years after Cardano’s death. Burton also advised his insomniac readers to “anoint the soles of the feet with the fat of a dormouse”.

Lathering your hair with yellow soap (46%) was voted the fifth strangest cure in the list of 12 insomnia cures shown to the respondents of Calm’s poll.  

It owes its place in the roll-call of odd insomnia cures to Scotland’s Glasgow Herald newspaper, which advised insomniac readers in 1898: “Soap your hair with ordinary yellow soap; rub it into the roots of the brain until it is lather all over; tie it up in a napkin, go to bed, and wash it out in the morning. Do this for a fortnight.”     

Most cultures have their own folk cures for insomnia, usually involving a particular food or drink.

So, in joint sixth place came two such cures involving lettuce (39%) – the French folk remedy of eating fried lettuce before bed and the ancient Egyptian cure of consuming lettuce opium, extracted from wild lettuce stems and drunk in brew.

“Who knew”, says Michael Acton Smith, Calm’s other co-founder, “that lettuce had loomed so large in the history of insomnia cures?”

The American folk remedy of eating a fried onion before bed (38%) came next and eighth – one place ahead of “pointing your bed northwards” (28%), which the great Victorian writer, Charles Dickens believed the best cure for his own insomnia.  

Modesty prevented us giving a place on the poll ballot to arguably the strangest of our own 23 new Sleep Stories – one offering the chance to hear Ben Stein, the actor who played the boring economics teacher in the Eighties teen movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, read a long extract from The Wealth of Nations, the classic 18th economics text by Adam Smith, the Scotsman known as the father of economics.

“This cure might strike some folks as strange”, says Alex Tew. “But it’s already been listened to half-a-million times and is our most popular non-fiction story. It does genuinely seem to help people wind down and fall asleep.” 

The respondents to YouGov’s poll for us were asked to pick from a list of 12 unusual insomnia cures, past and present. Of these, the only three belonging more to the present than the past filled the final three places. 

Third from last came watching a video of a crossword puzzle tournament (18%) – something offered as a sleep aid by one streaming service today.

Finally, in joint last place came two modern cures that seemed to many respondents hardly weird at all – respectively, drinking cinnamon and banana tea and curling and uncurling your toes, as a form of relaxation exercise.

“The golden age of weird insomnia cures has passed”, says Michael Acton Smith. “Modern science means that they don’t make such cures like they used to.”

TABLE: The Strangest/Weirdest Insomnia Cures Ever, As Voted by Respondents To Calm’s Poll:

Q. Below are some potential cures for insomnia, either used historically or nowadays. Which, if any, of the following would you say are the strangest/ weirdest cures for insomnia? Please select all that apply

Insomnia Cure ranked by votes

1. Rubbing dog’s earwax on your teeth (60%)
2. Eating sea slug entrails before bed (58%)
3. Drinking a potion containing the bile of a castrated boar (57%)
4. Rubbing dormouse/ field mouse fat on the soles of your feet (55%)
5. Lathering your hair in yellow soap (46%)
6= Eating fried lettuce before bed (39%)
6= Drinking a brew of lettuce opium (39%)
8. Eating a raw onion before bed (38%)
9. Pointing your bed northwards. (28%)
10. Watching a video of a crossword puzzle tournament (18%)
11= Curling and uncurling your toes (16%)
11= Drinking cinnamon and banana and tea (16%)

Note: Poll respondents were not offered the chance to pick the option of: “Listening to Ferris Bueller’s boring economics teacher read a long extract from The Wealth of Nations, the classic text by Adam Smith, the 18th century Scottish economist”.


METHODOLOGY: All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 4,279 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 15-17th February 2017.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of respectively U.S. and UK adults (aged 18+).

ABOUT CALM: Calm is an app available in both the App Store and Google Play store. It is the leader in the meditation space, with over eight million downloads to date. Founded in 2012 by British entrepreneurs Michael Acton Smith and Alex Tew, Calm has a mission to make the world healthier and happier through the superpowers of calm, and eventually become a “Nike for the mind”. Backed by $1.5M in angel investments, Calm has already become profitable, and tripled its revenue in 2016 alone. In March 2015, Calm launched a book of the same name published by Penguin that became a bestseller in the UK, and received rave reviews in the US the following year. It has since been published in over a dozen countries, including China, Taiwan, Germany, France and Spain. 

Calm is free to download and includes a collection of meditations, Sleep Stories, soothing nature scenes and a breathing tool.

A subscription to Calm Premium which unlocks 25+ Sleep Stories, a new meditation every day, and advanced mindfulness programs, costs $12.99/month; $59.99/year; $299.99/lifetime.