Thursday, January 6, 2011

Sleep - A Daily Sabbath

In the last month, I've been adjusting to sleeping with contraption that makes me look a little bit like Darth Vader. It's called a CPAP machine, or a continuous positive airway pressure machine. I've also been adjusting to the idea of "sleep hygiene".

Up until a couple of months ago, I had no idea that sleep could possibly be hygienic. But apparently, it can. Sleep hygiene consists of good sleeping habits, such as avoidng TV or bright lighting just before bedtime, and making sure your clothing and sleep environment are comfortable. It also includes a habit that I find very difficult to practice - getting enough sleep.

For years, I've had, shall we say, "eccentric" sleep habits. I've slept in the day, stayed up at night, slept for fourteen hours here and stayed up for twenty hours there. For a couple of years, I've been doing this thing where I try to get by on as little as five hours of sleep a night - sometimes even less!

My current profession demands that I work split shifts and have an erratic schedule. Sometimes I leave my house at 8 a.m. and do not return home until 11 o'clock that night! When I come home, I desperately want to unwind and relax. I want to watch a show, check facebook, and just chill out.

One of the healers I work with told me that although I may see this as "me" time, it doesn't leave me much of "myself" the next day. He said that if I could get a discipline with this habit, it would significantly improve all areas of my life. And when he said that, something clicked in my mind. I've been studying Judaism for years, and I know that the Jewish tradition puts a strong emphasis on ritual and rest.

For example, I have heard that Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) has at least two functions in regards to time. Firstly, it completes the preceding week. But of equal importance, Shabbat sets the tone for the next week.

Shabbat is like a thread that sews together pieces of cloth to form a garment. The cloth may be of the finest material and most intricate pattern. But if it is not held together by durable thread (or a reasonable substitute), the fabric's use will be limited. It may be draped over one's shoulders like a cape, and perhaps used as very large headscarf. But it won't make a pair of shorts or a sweater.

Conversely, the thread itself can be of a boring color, a rough material, or may be completely hidden from view by clever tailoring. But the quality of the thread, and it's compatibility with the fabric is of the utmost important. Without the thread, there is no garment (excluding capes and abnormally large headscarves).

Shabbat is a weekly day of rest. But sleep is a daily Shabbat. It completes the previous day, and refreshes one for the next.

So I started to wonder about sleep rituals I could perform, similar to Shabbat candle lighting and Havdalah (the ritual that ends Shabbat). I normally take a moment to pray at night before bed, and have taken to saying a bit of the "Modeh Ani" prayer upon waking, although I don't feel too connected to this prayer - or most other Jewish prayers for that matter.

I would like to ask you for any suggestions you may have about creating better sleep habits or rituals. I would love to hear of things you do that honor and prepare the way for sleep, or help you recognize the ending of this daily Sabbath.

Don't worry if you can't think of anything right now. It'll come to you - just sleep on it!

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