Facebook Post by Rabbi Perlin in the Time of Coronavirus (5/4/2020)

Monday Post 5.5.20:  Are you sleeping?

by Rabbi Amy R. Perlin, D.D.

This pandemic has disrupted the sleep patterns of millions of people.  Some report strange dreams. Others, report that their body clocks seem ‘off’ due to lack of exercise, stimulation, change of diet, stress, or the upset of their usual routine. And still others are responding to the crisis with excessive sleep or insomnia.

In the Torah, Jacob takes a nap (with a rock as his pillow) and has an amazing dream recorded for eternity about a ladder reaching to heaven.  I am not recommending that anyone sleep on a rock.  Jonah slept so soundly that he didn’t feel the turbulent seas.  In crisis, our ancestors had a variety of responses to stress that were reflected in their sleep patterns.

I find that if I spend too much time on Zoom, I get more tired than usual during the day, and that impacts my sleep at night.  I am all “zoomed” out these days, and that is taking its toll. Some recommend less screen time.  I have already read eight books at night since becoming housebound, and that doesn’t include all the research and books I am reading during the day to prepare to teach my weekly class.  With light reading, I do find that a chapter or two will do the trick.  I do make sure to read things that don’t add to the stress of our current lives at night.  I only read the newspaper in the morning. (Nothing like a little stress to start the day!)

I have been asked if there is a ‘Jewish’ way to calm down at the end of the day for a more restful sleep.  Here are a few things you might try (and not all of them are uniquely Jewish):

  • Say the Shema before you go to bed and then count your breathing backwards from 100. I never make it past 60.
  • Random prayer book. Many people I know don’t want to do the same thing every day or say the same prayer every night.  When in crisis, you can open your prayer book to any page and see if there is a message for you.  It doesn’t always work, but often there is something on the page that offers comfort and a sense of peace.  I tried this, as an experiment, while writing this piece and randomly opened to the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4f.), but at the top of the page was the prayer, “O One and Only God, you have made each of us unique, and formed us to be united in one family of life. Be with us, Eternal One, as we seek to unite our lives with Your power and Your love.”    The prayer book said to me: “You are not alone.  You are connected to others and to God.”  So, I take that in and  I can close my eyes and feel that positive connection.
  • For the visual processors, picturing people you love dearly can be a comfort. I visualize each of my grandchildren’s beautiful faces, angels of my life, and that often calms me.  I don’t take the leap to worry about their health and safety. As I put my head on the pillow, their faces fill my heart with calm.  If you don’t have grandchildren, pick someone else to think of…and my animal loving friends can imagine a cherished pet.
  • In times of stress, our ancestors reached out to those who had come before them. Connect with the soul of a loved one who has passed.
  • For years, I recommended that people coming for counseling during a life crisis think about creating a gratitude journal, or gratitude prayer or moment before bed. It is too easy to carry the problems of the world and your heart to bed with you.  The minute the brain refocuses on gratitude, you are freed from that stress and able to release it by replacing it with thankfulness and hope.  It’s worth a try.

Psalm 30:6 teaches that “joy comes in the morning,” even if the night was filled with weeping, or, I would add sleeplessness.  But, the joy is greater with a good night’s sleep.  So, I am finally off to bed this early Monday morning.  Wishing you a May filled with sweet dreams!