Sleep Patterns and Drowsiness

Establishing the Hours Needed for Sleep

In reply to your letter of the 8th of Kislev in which you describe the times that you go to sleep and arise, and you ask my opinion if this conduct is correct or whether it should be changed:

The ultimate criteria for the above should be in keeping with the exposition offered by the Alter Rebbe in Hilchos Talmud Torah, regarding a teacher of children. [There the Alter Rebbe states that a teacher] should not stay up so late in the night that[his lack of sleep] will affect the efficacy of his teaching the next day. (See Hilchos Talmud Torah 1:12.)

Understandably, the same applies to one’s own study of the Torah [— one should not stay up too late if it will keep him from being alert when he awakens the next day].

Since the amount of sleep a person needs is different from one individual to the other, depending on the nature of his body and the amount of sleep he is used to getting, etc., [it is therefore impossible for me to advise you as to the exact amount of sleep you need].

The statements in the various codes of law regarding the amount [of time] a person should sleep is but a median amount and applies to the majority, for Torah speaks to the needs of the majority, [however, individuals may well vary as to the exact number of hours of sleep they require].

You should test yourself [to see] how many hours of sleep you require, so that when you awaken you will be able to study with the necessary amount of [alertness and] comprehension. Based on this test, you should establish the hours of going to sleep and waking.

It is self-understood that in any case you are to carefully observe the time of the morning Shema, [i.e., that you arise in time to recite the morning Shema], a matter that is of particular import during the summer [when there is a greater possibility of missing the proper time for the recitation of the morning Shema].

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XIX, p. 89)

Sleeping During the Day

.. It is obvious that one is to sleep at night (in accordance with both the revealed and esoteric portions of Torah, and as is to be observed as well in the nature of human conduct). Only in unusual circumstances should one nap during the day. (That which is cited in the book Minhagei HaChasam Sofer requires further examination.)

With regard to [sleeping on Shabbos day,] see the Shulchan Aruch of the Alter Rebbe, end of chapter 281, as well as Pri Etz Chayim, Shaar 16, Chapter 1. This matter requires further investigation.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XII, p. 448)

Variety as an Antidote to Extreme Drowsiness

.. You write about your disorder, [that in the middle of your learning] you fall into a deep sleep, etc.:

One of the things that may be of assistance is that you study those things in which you have a particular interest; also to change your studies from time to time.

By this I mean that you should not study the same subject matter for many hours on end, or [if you do study the same subject matter for many hours,] do not study it in the same fashion, [e.g., switch from an intensive form of study to a more surface form of study].

Understandably, the above is in addition to your strengthening your health in general, particularly since [being in good health] is important in and of itself, as the Rambam states: “Maintaining a healthy and robust body is an integral part of Divine service.”

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XVIII, p. 7)

Conquering Sleep Difficulties

Follow a Routine

You write to me about feeling weak and also about suffering from insomnia:

It may very well be that both matters are a result of your failure to lead an orderly life, without having set and established times for food, drink and sleep, etc.

Moreover, it is well known how our Rebbeim demanded [from others] and were also exacting and strict with themselves in regard to keeping an orderly life style. They explained and expounded on how lack of routine and order prevents success in the performance of Torah and mitzvos.

This applies in particular to you and your work, as you are engaged in sacred labor, the [sacred] work of [the tribe of] Zevulun that [spiritually] precedes [the labor of the tribe of] Yissachar. The [orderly] manner [demanded] of [one who engages in] your [type of] work is clearly stated in the verse, when it states: “Rejoice Zevulun as you go out [and conduct your work in an orderly fashion].”

It would be advisable that you consult with a doctor so that he may calm you of your fears [regarding your weakness and insomnia]. Also ask him to establish for you an orderly routine for eating, drinking, etc. You should — as much as possible —make sure to stick to this routine.

May G‑d send His healing words and heal and strengthen you.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XVII, p. 169)

Check Mezuzos and Tefillin, Recite Tehillim,
Give Tzedakah and Sleep in a Tallis Katan

In reply to your letter of Thursday in which you write about your sleep difficulties; [you also write that] you have consulted with a doctor, and that as of yet he has been unable to be of assistance:

First and foremost, check the mezuzos in your home as well as your tefillin, in order to assure their kashrus. Also, give several cents to tzedakah each weekday morning. Additionally, following your daily as well as Shabbos and Yom Tov [morning] prayers, you should recite the daily portion of Tehillim as divided by the days of the month.

It would be to your advantage that you wear a checked [for kashrus] tallis katan not only during the day, but also at night, in accordance with the words of the AriZal (quoted by the Alter Rebbe in his Siddur, Laws of Tzitzis). It is my strong hope that paying heed to the above will take care of the matter [and put an end to your sleep difficulties].

Nevertheless, since all matters, [including matters of physical well-being,] are [to be approached and remedied not only via spiritual means, but] also to be garbed in [the garments of] nature, you should follow the doctor’s instructions and take whatever he prescribes for you, for surely the doctor will prescribe some pills and the like.

On your part, you should absolutely cease dwelling on these [sleep] disturbances, following which — as previously stated — within a short period of time, you will return to full health.

The less you dwell on these [sleep] disturbances and the more you increase your bitachon in G‑d, Creator and Conductor of the world, the greater will be the increase in G‑d’s blessings [to you] and your success in the above, [i.e., in eliminating your sleep problems,] as well as your success in all other matters.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XVIII, p. 358)

A Kosher Mezuzah Close to the Bed

In reply to the notification that I received yesterday through your wife, the Rabbanis tichye, that you are having difficulty sleeping:

You should absolutely cease dwelling on this. Give it no heed, since you are surely following the instructions of your doctor.

It would be appropriate for you to have a kosher mezuzah close to your bed (in addition to the mezuzah on your bedroom door), and — understandably — if necessary, that the mezuzah be wrapped in a double wrapping.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. IV, p. 159)

Spiritual Preparations Before Bedtime For a Good Night’s Sleep

I was informed by ... that of late you have been unwell for several weeks and you have not been sleeping well:

.. In my opinion, you should inspect the mezuzos of your home and before you go to sleep, study at least several lines of the sichos of my father-in-law, the Rebbe, and envision his holy countenance — to the extent that you remember it.

With G‑d’s help, I hope that you will be able to convey to me the good news that your sleep is improving. ...

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. IV, p. 206)

Breathing Difficulties During Sleep

.. With regard to your breathing difficulties [during sleep]:

I am almost certain that this is related to “nerves.” When you will recite the bedtime Shema with the general intention that you are turning to the One Who stands above you, as stated in the bedtime Shema: “The L‑rd is your guardian; your protective shade at your right hand,”1 then it is patently clear that there is no room at all for untoward events.

The same is also true with regard to your health, [that there is absolutely nothing to fear, since your ailments will] “melt away like wax.”2

Understandably, this in no way negates taking steps via natural means, viz., properly following the doctor’s instructions, for G‑d has so established the world [that we take measures via natural means]. ...

Also ask the doctor whether it would be beneficial for you to lengthen the amount of time between your eating and drinking and your going to sleep — more than you have been doing until now.

(Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXXVI, p. 2973 )

Nightmares and Troubling Dreams:
Combating Night Terrors

Check Mezuzos, Give Charity, Recite Shema
And Keep Away From Heavy Foods Prior to Bedtime

You write that your wife wakes up in the middle of the night screaming and crying, [and you wish to know what to do]:

Check the mezuzos in your home [to ascertain their kashrus]. Your wife should give several cents to tzedakah prior to candlelighting as well as each weekday morning. She should also recite the first section of Kerias Shema prior to her retiring at night. Also, beginning one or two hours before bedtime, she should refrain from eating foods that are difficult to digest.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XV, p. 306)

Scrupulous Recitation of Bedtime Shema
Several Lines of Tanya From Memory

You write about your night terrors:

Inspect the mezuzos in your home as well as your tefillin [to assure their kashrus]. Be scrupulous in the recitation of Kerias Shema al HaMitah (the bedtime Shema), and when in bed [prior to going to sleep for the night,] recite or reflect on several lines of Tanya that you have committed to memory. [Also,] study a number of times the [section] Shaar HaBitachon in the book Chovas HaLevavos.

[Additionally,] be completely inattentive and unmindful of these frightening thoughts — [by this I mean]: do not even [try to] combat them. They will of themselves weaken with the passage of time, and they will in due course entirely disappear.

Surely you possess a pocket-size picture of my father-in-law, the Rebbe....

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XI, p. 162)

Check the Mezuzos in the Home
And Seek Forgiveness if Offense Was Caused

I duly received your letter in which you ask my advice about the troubling dreams that your wife is having:

First and foremost, you should check the mezuzos in your home. Also, ask your wife whether she possibly offended a Jewish man or woman in the past. If there was such a slight, then she should ask for a general forgiveness before three Jews. By that I mean, she should say: “If I have offended the honor of a Jewish son or daughter, I regret that action with all my heart and ask for forgiveness.”

I believe that I have already told you that prior to candlelighting on erev Shabbos and erev Yom Tov, your wife should give — according to her ability and without placing undue strain on her finances — tzedakah to the charity of R. Meir Baal HaNes.

I am sure that when she performs all the above, this will alleviate her situation, and slowly but surely all her [troublesome] dreams will cease.

It would also be beneficial for your wife to read a passage or two in the Memoirs of my father-in-law, the Rebbe, either in Yiddish or English — in whichever language is easier for her — prior to the recitation of the Shema and going to sleep.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. V, p. 49)

Sleep in a Tallis Katan and With a Head Covering

.. Regarding that which you write about [troubling] dreams:

Inspect the mezuzos of your dwelling, particularly the mezuzah of your bedroom. If at all possible, sleep in a tallis katan that has been checked [for kashrus] and [sleep] with your head covered. Before your morning prayers during the weekday, give a few francs to tzedakah.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XIII, p. 63)

To Minimize Disturbing Dreams,
Minimize Idle Thoughts During the Day

With regard to disturbing dreams...

It is known — and this is alluded to in the words of our Sages, of blessed memory, as well — that “a person’s dreams result from idle thoughts, etc., during the course of the day.” By minimizing the cause, the result will be minimized as well.

Since there are additional reasons for dreams (see Tanya chapter 39 and sources cited there), you should be scrupulous in the recitation of Kerias Shema al HaMitah, as well as ensuring that the mezuzah on the doorway of your bedroom is kosher.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XIV, p. 326)

Nocturnal Accidents

In reply to your letter:

Generally speaking, the matter about which you write4 sometimes results from a lack of sanctity in the manner of speech. Often it is a result of the person’s physical weakness. Sometimes the person’s tefillin or mezuzos need to be inspected and changed.

Rectify all the above, and increase your energy in the study of Torah, Toras HaNigleh and Toras HaChassidus. May G‑d grant you success.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. IX, p. 273)