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Sleep for a Healthy Jewish Life

By not making sleep a priority, we are literally making ourselves sick.
sleep deprivation

In our world of smartphones and other technological wonders, a basic human need has become widely neglected.

I recently heard an interview with John Romaniello and Adam Bornstein, authors of the new book Man 2.0: Engineering the Alpha. One of the points they emphasized was the damage a lack of sleep does to hormonal health, specifically testosterone levels. While the authors’ focus is on men, the relationship between sleep and health applies to men and women alike.

“We are a nation of worn-out people, many of us chugging coffee, tea, soda and energy drinks just to make it through the day,” journalist Laura Martin wrote this year about the United States. An excellent Israeli blogger has likewise commented: “I am so coffee addicted that I take a thermos with me to the synagogue in the morning and drink it while I am studying for an hour or so after prayers end. Then I take a second thermos to my Torah class an hour or so later.”

How widespread is this trend? Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project, remarked in 2011:

“When I ask people in my talks how many had fewer than 7 hours of sleep several nights during the past week, the vast majority raise their hands. That’s true whether it’s an audience of corporate executives, teachers, cops or government workers. We’ve literally lost touch with what it feels like to be fully awake.”

There are severe physical consequences to this behavior. “I am not sure that we all realize that by not making sleep a priority, we are literally making ourselves sick,” writes Karla Smith, director of the St. Alexius Sleep Center in Bismarck, North Dakota. Smith cites sleep deprivation increasing the risk of illnesses including diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer.

An exhausted society is also a dangerous society. In the United States, the second leading cause of deaths on highways is exhausted driving.

From a Judaic perspective, neglecting a fundamental need like sleep raises major concerns. The Pele Yoetz (Rabbi Eliezer Papo zt”l, 1785-1826) wrote, “Someone who is not watchful regarding anything which may harm his body is like an enemy unto himself, as one who seeks his own demise, and will have to face judgment for this in the future.” Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch zt”l was similarly direct in Horeb:

“You may not ruin your health through carelessness…you may not willfully bring yourself into danger, you may not lessen your powers through an irregular way of life, or in any way weaken your health or shorten your life. Only if the body is healthy is it an efficient instrument for the spirit’s activity. Therefore, even the smallest unnecessary deprivation of strength is accountable to G_d. Every smallest weakening is partial murder.”

Specific to sleep, perhaps no modern rabbi was more outspoken about this need than Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt”l. Here are a few of his statements on sleep:

  • “You have to make a berachah before you go to sleep at night. Hamapil chevlei sheinah, thank You, Hashem, for putting sleep on my eyes…Some people lose their ability to sleep in their old age. They are broken…You need sleep to be happy…Sleep is more important than food.” (Rabbi Avigdor Miller Speaks, Volume 1)
  • “When you go to sleep early and you get up in the morning with a fresh mind, you are going to understand the sugyos of the Gemara in an entirely different way. With a sleepy head, a person will dream through the whole day. Then one day filled with discouragement will be followed by another and the talmid will begin to think that he has no future in learning. Many times, failure is due only to irresponsible habits of sleeping or eating.” (Rabbi Avigdor Miller Speaks, Volume 2)
  • “There are many people who have fallen into depression for various reasons. But one very prevalent reason is a lack of sleep…You need sleep. You need it like you need your life.” (Q&A: Thursday Nights with Rabbi Avigdor Miller, Volume 1)
  • “Ah geshmake [enjoyable] pleasant night’s sleep. It’s better than eating the most delicious things. In the morning you get up, and you’re refreshed, you’re a new person.” (Q&A: Thursday Nights with Rabbi Avigdor Miller, Volume 2)

Prioritize adequate rest as much as checking e-mail. Boost your energy with naps. HaShem wants us healthy so we can serve Him with strength and joy.

About the Author: Menachem Ben-Mordechai has written for numerous publications on subjects ranging from Israel and Latin America to the sport of powerlifting and life insurance. He has also coached elite powerlifters as well as beginners. Menachem's other writing can be found under the name Myles Kantor.


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One Response to “Sleep for a Healthy Jewish Life”

  1. Brian Kent says:

    Excellent advice from Rav Miller (Z"L).Thanks for the article. I hope people will take heed.

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