Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Sleep and Torah

From the beginning of the Torah, one can see how having a productive day is largely influenced by what they do at night. The Torah says, "וי-הי ערב וי-הי בקר..." - "and it was night and it was day..." The Jewish day begins with the night. The secular calendar says the day begins at "12 am", while most people would probably say that the day begins when they wake up. Maybe the "daytime" begins when they wake up, however, the day begins at night.

According to the RaMBaM (Maimonides), eight hours of sleep should be sufficient. The RaMBaM recommends that the person go to sleep just over eight hours before the sun rises. (Hilchos Deos; 4, 4) One of the great rabbis of our generation, Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shilt"a, says that a person will be a more effective Torah scholar if they get sufficient amounts of sleep. The Chofetz Chaim was careful to turn off the lights in the Beis Medrash (study hall) of his yeshiva early enough at night in order to try to encourage his students to get a sufficient amount of sleep.

At the beginning of the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law compiled by Rabbi Yosef Caro), we read that in the morning one should "strengthen himself like a lion to stand in the morning for the service of his Creator". When a lion strengthens itself, its vigor is self-evident. The lion often wants to accomplish a goal, such as catch prey. The lion needs to sleep to maintain that strength. So too, we should learn from the lion about the importance of sufficient sleep and healthy sleep hygiene. However, it is best to get all the necessary sleep at the night time.

Scientists recommend about 8 hours of sleep for the average person. There are those who may require as little as 4 hours, while some require 12 hours. In order to know one has had enough sleep, they should not require an alarm clock in the morning and should feel sharp throughout the day. Getting enough sleep is an issue of "guard your soul exceedingly". May we all merit to have restful nights and productive Torah learning.


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