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Even sleep has earned a respectable place within halachic literature. The Rambam writes that one should get at least eight hours of sleep each night.[1] So important is sleeping that it is sometimes permissible to violate Shabbat (such as putting out a light for a sick person or the like) in order to get a good night’s sleep.[2] One is advised to make an effort to recite the Ma’ariv prayer as early as possible each evening lest one fall asleep from the day’s exhaustion before praying. It is even suggested that one recite Ma’ariv before eating dinner, as meals often cause sleepiness.[3] There is an opinion that one who has gone to bed for the evening but realizes before falling asleep that he forgot to recite Ma’ariv is not required to get out of bed and get dressed in order to do so.[4]

According to most authorities, one is required to recite at least the first paragraph of Shema and the Hamapil blessing before going to sleep each night.[5] One who is unable to fall asleep at night should recite the Shema over and over again until sleep overtakes him.[6] Alternatively, one should think about the waves of the ocean[7] or the future resurrection of the dead.[8] Music is also said to have a relaxing effect and is helpful for falling asleep.[9] Rebbe Nachman teaches that one should expect difficulty in falling asleep Saturday nights.[10]

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According to some authorities, one should recite the bedtime Shema while lying in bed.[11] Others argue that praying while lying in bed is disrespectful and that the bedtime Shema should be recited before actually getting into bed.[12] One may recite the bedtime Shema as soon as one starts to get ready for bed – one need not wait until the last waking moment.[13] One should never sleep in a synagogue (the sanctuary),[14] on a floor,[15] in a cemetery,[16] or under the shadow of the moon.[17] We are also taught that a man should never sleep alone in a house lest he fall prey to the angel Lilith.[18]

One is advised to position one’s bed so that it faces north to south rather than east to west.[19] One should preferably sleep on one’s left side[20] and not flat on one’s back.[21] There is a widespread hesitation to sleep with one’s feet facing the door of the room. The reason for this is based on the traditional practice of removing the dead from a room feet first. This idea is found in the teachings of feng shui, as well:

Whatever you do, make sure your feet don’t point out the door while in bed. In traditional Chinese culture, this is called the “Death Position” because the deceased are carried out feet first. Practitioners believe sleeping this way can drain your life force. If you can’t avoid it, use a footboard or a substantial trunk or other piece of furniture at the foot of your bed [to act as a buffer].[22]

While those who are superstitiously inclined may prefer to avoid sleeping with their feet facing the door, there does not seem to be any halachic basis for this. Those whose bedrooms are already positioned in this manner should pay no attention to any such superstitious concerns.[23]

It is also considered very inauspicious to sleep with shoes on. Indeed, sleeping while wearing shoes is said to be “a taste of death” and liable to cause memory loss.[24] Similarly, one should not use one’s clothes as a pillow, as doing so is also said to cause memory loss.[25] One should not retire for the night while still wearing one’s daytime clothing.[26] Proper sleep is important for maintaining health and helps the body fight off illness.[27]

Although one is not subject to reward or punishment for any actions “performed” while sleeping,[28] one is often responsible for any damages that one causes while sleeping.[29] Staying awake all night long is unhealthy and unadvised[30] and spending all day sleeping is unbecoming and leads to laziness.[31] Similarly, one should limit daytime naps as they only serve to curb one’s productivity,[32] though one is completely entitled to take a nap when needed.[33] Napping on Shabbat is encouraged[34] and taking a nap on Fridays is also considered praiseworthy if one’s intention is to be fully awake and refreshed for the arrival of Shabbat.[35] One should perform netilat yadayim after taking a nap, though the accompanying blessing is not recited.[36]

 

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[1] Rambam, Hilchot Deot 4:4; Chatam Sofer, Derashot 2:402. See also Shla, Chullin 84a.
[2] Shabbat 2:5.
[3] Berachot 4b.
[4] Bnei Banim 2:19.
[5] Berachot 60b; OC 239.
[6] Yerushalmi Berachot 1:1.
[7] Ta’amei Haminhagim, p. 575.
[8] Sefer Hamiddot, s.v. “Sheina.”
[9] Eruvin 104a.
[10] Likutei Moharan 1:117.
[11] Magen Avraham 239:5; Mishna Berura 239:6.
[12] Mishna Berura 239:2; Kaf Hachaim, OC 239:11.
[13] Mishna Berura 239:3.
[14] Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 13:4.
[15] Berachot 62b; Gittin 70a; Aruch Hashulchan, YD 16:15.
[16] Chagiga 3b.
[17] Pesachim 111a.
[18] Shabbat 151b. See Sha’ar Hatziun 239:17.
[19] Berachot 5b; OC 3:6; 240:17. For more on the position of the bed and the direction in which one should sleep see my book Halacha Bilvad.
[20] Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 71:5.
[21] Berachot 13b; Rambam, Hilchot Deot 4:5; Mishna Berura 339:6.
[22] “Top 10 Tips to Feng Shui Your Bedroom,” http://www.chinatownconnection.com/feng-shui-bedroom.htm.
[23] Shuva Yisrael 1:3.
[24] Yoma 78b; Ben Ish Chai, Pinchas 16; Kaf Hachaim, YD 116:211.
[25] Horayot 13b; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 71:5.
[26] Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 71:5.
[27] Berachot 57b; Yalkut Shimoni, Bereishit 1:6; Bereishit Rabba 14.
[28] She’eilat Ya’avetz 2:97.
[29] Bava Kama 26a; CM 421:3.
[30] Avot 3:4.
[31] Avot 3:11; Mishlei 20:13.
[32] Sukka 26b; OC 231:1.
[33] Mishna Berura 4:36; Aruch Hashulchan 4:17.
[34] Tur, OC 280; Magen Avraham 4:15; Mishna Berura 4:36.
[35] Sefer Or Haner, cited in Yitzhak Buxbaum, Jewish Spiritual Practices (New York: Jason Aronson, 1994).
[36] Rema, OC 4:15; Mishna Berura 4:34.

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Rabbi Ari Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He teaches halacha, including semicha, one-on-one to people all over the world, online. He is also the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (9 volumes), the rabbinic director of United with Israel, and a rebbe at a number of yeshivot and seminaries. Questions and feedback are welcomed: rabbiari@hotmail.com.