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A mother's letter on the passing of her young daughter is a must-read on grief, love and loss

A mother's letter on the passing of her young daughter is a must-read on grief, love and loss

Upworthy is sharing this letter from Myra Sack on the anniversary of the passing of her daughter Havi Lev Goldstein. Loss affects everyone differently and nothing can prepare us for the loss of a young child. But as this letter beautifully demonstrates, grief is not something to be ignored or denied. We hope the honest words and feelings shared below can help you or someone you know who is processing grief of their own. The original letter begins below:


Dear Beauty,

Time is crawling to January 20th, the one-year anniversary of the day you took your final breath on my chest in our bed. We had a dance party the night before. Your posse came over. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, closest friends, and your loving nanny Tia. We sat in the warm kitchen with music on and passed you from one set of arms to another. Everyone wanted one last dance with you. We didn’t mess around with only slow songs. You danced to Havana and Danza Kuduro, too. Somehow, you mustered the energy to sway and rock with each of us, despite not having had anything to eat or drink for six days. That night, January 19th, we laughed and cried and sang and danced. And we held each other. We let our snot and our tears rest on each other’s shoulders; we didn’t wipe any of them away. We ate ice cream after dinner, as we do every night. And on this night, we rubbed a little bit of fresh mint chocolate chip against your lips. Maybe you’d taste the sweetness.

Reggaeton and country music. Blueberry pancakes and ice cream. Deep, long sobs and outbursts of real, raw laughter. Conversations about what our relationships mean to each other and why we are on this earth.



This is grief in our home.

We lost our first-born daughter, Havi Lev Goldstein, on January 20th, 2021, at 9:04am. She died peacefully in our bed, in our arms. She died from a cruel disease called Tay-Sachs, that strips your mind and body of every function over 12-18 months. Havi was two years, four months and sixteen days old when she died.

My husband, Matt Goldstein, and I underwent preconception genetic testing for Tay-Sachs disease. We are both Ashkenazi Jewish, a population that has a higher risk for having a mutation in the gene that causes Tay-Sachs. We took our genetic testing very seriously. My testing results came back showing that I was a carrier; Matt’s results said he was not. Given the autosomal recessive nature of the disease, both parents need to be carriers for the fetus to be at risk of inheriting the disease. Months later, we were pregnant with our first child.

Tragically, Matt received the wrong test, and his carrier status was mis-reported. Matt was in fact, a carrier for Tay-Sachs. 15 months into her life, we learned that our daughter, Havi, was now a victim of this fatal, progressive neurodegenerative disease. In an instant, we were transformed from being not only first-time parents, but now first-time parents of a dying child.

From the date of Havi’s diagnosis, December 17th, 2019, to her death on January 20th, 2021, we followed her lead. She never spoke a word, never walked a single step. But she communicated powerfully through smiles and tears, through the brightness of her eyes and the back-and-forth movements of her head. She loved, deeply. And when you closed your eyes and listened closely, her voice was clear.

Havi taught us that life can be even more beautiful and painful than we ever imagined. And when we live at the edge of that deepest beauty and deepest pain, then everything—our hearts, our world view, our community—will deepen and expand.

We honored Havi’s life every Friday night with family and friends in a celebration that we called Shabbirthday. The word is a combination of Shabbat and Birthday. Havi’s favorite food, the only food that she ever crawled toward, was challah, the braided Jewish bread that we eat every Shabbat. And we knew that her birthdays would be limited to two. That was not enough. We wanted more. So we threw Havi 57 Shabbirthdays before she died. Balloons, cakes, beach walks, fancy dinners, always a challah, and beautiful songs and prayers. We didn’t pretend to be happy on these Shabbirthdays. We weren’t. We were heart broken. We didn’t throw parties to distract or numb the pain. We found moments of beauty and celebration embedded in and between our deepest pain. We knew we needed the love and support of our closest people right there with us, too. And we treated every moment as sacred, not scary. As holy, not superficial.

This is grief in our home.

Since Havi’s death, we continue to honor Shabbirthdays every Friday. Now, we read poems, listen to Cole Swindell’s, ‘You Should Be Here’, and close our eyes tightly to try and recall the feeling of her wrapped tightly in our arms. Sometimes it’s hard to breathe. Sometimes I don’t want to open my eyes at the end of the song. And sometimes, I feel okay. Sometimes I can even smile through the song and cuddle with our beautiful younger daughter, Kaia. Whatever the feelings are, however the anguish of grief is manifesting, I pay attention.

Havi’s story is for anyone who has lost the person they love most in this world; for anyone who has watched someone they love lose their beloved; or for anyone who has yet to be touched by their own tragic loss and is open to learning about what it might feel like for them one day.

For me, Havi’s death is not a one-time event. It happens over and over again every moment she is not where she is supposed to be: Picking out a mismatched set of clothes that look adorable anyway; walking into preschool with her little hand gripping my index finger; pausing between the slides and the swings for a few bites of fig bar at the playground; playing with her little sister who looks up in admiration at her god given best friend. The losses are layered and constant. And they will accrue, every day, and on every missed milestone until the day I die. I’m not sure people understand that about losing a young child.

I think that the only way to be okay is to keep inviting our dead into those spaces, to keep them present in those moments where they should be. And not in a delusional way, either. Only in a way that helps us to create new memories and experiences with them since their life on this earth was so tragically short. Relationships don’t have to end when the physical ends. We don’t need to relegate them to the margins. As our therapist, Dr. Joanne Cacciatore puts it: We keep them right in the front row. From that place, they can participate actively in the life they were meant to have. And we can be proud to include them in it. And they can continue to encourage us to live a life of fullness and in service to others.

Even after only one year on this earth without Havi, my relationship with her has undergone profound and deepening changes. In the same way that relationships in the world of the living require immense attention and constant adjustments, so too, do our relationships with our dead. There are moments when I can still feel the touch of Hav’s softest cheeks against mine and there are also moments when I feel far away from her. There are times when I can hear her voice in my head and in my heart and times when the silence is everywhere even though I’m begging for her to show up.

A lot of this journey is a solitary one but it’s made so much easier when other people in our lives keep Havi present. This looks like so many beautiful things: Havi’s name written in the sand; outfits in the color purple; beautiful sunsets over mountains filled with wild flowers; a glass raised ‘To Hav’ before dinner begins; photographs on a bookshelf; text messages on important dates; acts of kindness in the spirit of a beautiful little girl. We do not need to ‘move on’ and we never will. We want to be joined in existing in the space where love and pain coexist for that is the space where we are closest to Hav. We, we all, can be changed forever by the power of loss. Falling into its embrace can make us more powerful, more productive, more alive, and more human. But that growth is ours to discover and cannot be rushed, or forced.

I wish we were kinder to grieving people. I wish we understood that grief is not scary. Losing Havi is the worst possible thing I could have ever imagined as a new mother. It is tragic and unnatural. But what is natural is to want to keep her close to us, to want to make her proud, to want to make the world better in her name, to want other people to know and love her. Those are all natural, quite beautiful, instincts that keep grieving people feeling like they can be okay and maybe even that they can become bigger and better versions of themselves.

I know my relationship with grief, and with Havi, is going to change many more times in my lifetime. I only hope that there will be more safe places to inhabit my suffering when it does.

Children are not supposed to die before their parents. But they do. And they do in this country, they do in all of our neighborhoods. And there are thousands of children, and their parents, who deserve a dance party filled with deep soulful sobs, uncontrollable laughter, and the rhythm of the music keeping us all on our feet for one more day. Most importantly, they deserve to be remembered.

Sponsored

3 organic recipes that feed a family of 4 for under $7 a serving

O Organics is the rare brand that provides high-quality food at affordable prices.

A woman cooking up a nice pot of pasta.

Over the past few years, rising supermarket prices have forced many families to make compromises on ingredient quality when shopping for meals. A recent study published by Supermarket News found that 41% of families with children were more likely to switch to lower-quality groceries to deal with inflation.

By comparison, 29% of people without children have switched to lower-quality groceries to cope with rising prices.

Despite the current rising costs of groceries, O Organics has enabled families to consistently enjoy high-quality, organic meals at affordable prices for nearly two decades. With a focus on great taste and health, O Organics offers an extensive range of options for budget-conscious consumers.

O Organics launched in 2005 with 150 USDA Certified Organic products but now offers over 1,500 items, from organic fresh fruits and vegetables to organic dairy and meats, organic cage-free certified eggs, organic snacks, organic baby food and more. This gives families the ability to make a broader range of recipes featuring organic ingredients than ever before.


“We believe every customer should have access to affordable, organic options that support healthy lifestyles and diverse shopping preferences,” shared Jennifer Saenz, EVP and Chief Merchandising Officer at Albertsons, one of many stores where you can find O Organics products. “Over the years, we have made organic foods more accessible by expanding O Organics to every aisle across our stores, making it possible for health and budget-conscious families to incorporate organic food into every meal.”

With some help from our friends at O Organics, Upworthy looked at the vast array of products available at our local store and created some tasty, affordable and healthy meals.

Here are 3 meals for a family of 4 that cost $7 and under, per serving. (Note: prices may vary by location and are calculated before sales tax.)

O Organic’s Tacos and Refried Beans ($6.41 Per Serving)

Few dishes can make a family rush to the dinner table quite like tacos. Here’s a healthy and affordable way to spice up your family’s Taco Tuesdays.

Prep time: 2 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Total time: 22 minutes

Ingredients:

1 lb of O Organics Grass Fed Ground Beef ($7.99)

1 packet O Organics Taco Seasoning ($2.29)

O Organics Mexican-Style Cheese Blend Cheese ($4.79)

O Organics Chunky Salsa ($3.99)

O Organics Taco Shells ($4.29)

1 can of O Organics Refried Beans ($2.29)

Instructions:

1. Cook the ground beef in a skillet over medium heat until thoroughly browned; remove any excess grease.

2. Add 1 packet of taco seasoning to beef along with water [and cook as directed].

3. Add taco meat to the shell, top with cheese and salsa as desired.

4. Heat refried beans in a saucepan until cooked through, serve alongside tacos, top with cheese.

tacos, o organics, family recipesO Organics Mexican-style blend cheese.via O Organics

O Organics Hamburger Stew ($4.53 Per Serving)

Busy parents will love this recipe that allows them to prep in the morning and then serve a delicious, slow-cooked stew after work.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 7 hours

Total time: 7 hours 15 minutes

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

1 lb of O Organics Grass Fed Ground Beef ($7.99)

1 ½ lbs O Organics Gold Potatoes ($4.49)

3 O Organics Carrots ($2.89)

1 tsp onion powder

I can O Organics Tomato Paste ($1.25)

2 cups water

1 yellow onion diced ($1.00)

1 clove garlic ($.50)

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

2 tsp Italian seasoning or oregano

Instructions:

1. Cook the ground beef in a skillet over medium heat until thoroughly browned; remove any excess grease.

2. Transfer the cooked beef to a slow cooker with the potatoes, onions, carrots and garlic.

3. Mix the tomato paste, water, salt, pepper, onion powder and Italian seasoning in a separate bowl.

4. Drizzle the mixed sauce over the ingredients in the slow cooker and mix thoroughly.

5. Cover the slow cooker with its lid and set it on low for 7 to 8 hours, or until the potatoes are soft. Dish out into bowls and enjoy!

potatoes, o organics, hamburger stewO Organics baby gold potatoes.via O Organics


O Organics Ground Beef and Pasta Skillet ($4.32 Per Serving)

This one-pan dish is for all Italian lovers who are looking for a saucy, cheesy, and full-flavored comfort dish that takes less than 30 minutes to prepare.

Prep time: 2 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Total time: 27 minutes

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

1 lb of O Organics Grass Fed Ground Beef ($7.99)

1 tbsp. olive oil

2 tsp dried basil

1 tsp garlic powder

1 can O Organics Diced Tomatoes ($2.00)

1 can O Organics Tomato Sauce ($2.29)

1 tbsp O Organics Tomato Paste ($1.25)

2 1/4 cups water

2 cups O Organics Rotini Pasta ($3.29)

1 cup O Organics Mozzarella cheese ($4.79)

Instructions:

1. Brown ground beef in a skillet, breaking it up as it cooks.

2. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic powder

3. Add tomato paste, sauce and diced tomatoes to the skillet. Stir in water and bring to a light boil.

4. Add pasta to the skillet, ensuring it is well coated. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5. Remove the lid, sprinkle with cheese and allow it to cool.

o organics, tomato basil pasta sauce, olive oilO Organics tomato basil pasta sauce and extra virgin olive oil.via O Organics

Science

Americans see gardening changes as 'plant hardiness zones' shift across half the U.S.

Here's a quick tool to find out if your zone has changed due to warmer temperatures.

Photo by Jonathan Kemper on Unsplash, Map by USDA-ARS and Oregon State University (Public Domain)

The USDA has issued a new Plant Hardiness Zone Map

Millions of American households have a garden of some sort, whether they grow vegetables, fruits flowers or other plants. Gardening has always been a popular hobby, but more Americans turned to tending plants during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic for both stress relief and to grow their own food so they could make less trips to the store. For many people, it's a seasonal ritual that's therapeutic and rewarding.

But a shift is occurring in the gardening world. Now, due to rising temperature data, half the country find themselves in a different "plant hardiness zone"—the zones that indicate what plants work well in an area and when to plant them. Gardeners rely on knowing their hardiness zone to determine what to plant and when, but they haven't been updated since 2012.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture updated its Plant Hardiness Zone Map in late 2023, months before people in most of the country start planning their planting. We saw the 10 hottest summers ever recorded in 174 years of climate data between 2014 and 2023, but hardiness zones are actually determined by the coldest winter temperatures each year. Winters are warming at an even faster pace than summers, according to nonpartisan research and communications group Climate Central, but that may or may not be the entire reason behind the zone changes.

The USDA acknowledges that some of the zone shifts could be due to climate change but cautions against using them as hard evidence for it since factors such as improved data collection also contribute to changes in the map.

people planting flowers

Gardening can be a solo or community endeavor.

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

"Temperature updates to plant hardiness zones are not necessarily reflective of global climate change because of the highly variable nature of the extreme minimum temperature of the year, as well as the use of increasingly sophisticated mapping methods and the inclusion of data from more weather stations," the USDA wrote in November 2023. "Consequently, map developers involved in the project cautioned against attributing temperature updates made to some zones as reliable and accurate indicators of global climate change (which is usually based on trends in overall average temperatures recorded over long time periods)."

At the same time, Chris Daly, director of the PRISM Climate Group at Oregon State University that developed the map with the USDA, told NPR, "Over the long run, we will expect to see a slow shifting northward of zones as climate change takes hold."

As an example of zone shifting, Dallas, Texas, was classified as Zone 8a in 2012, when data showed the coldest winter temperature in the city was between 10 and 15 degrees Fahrenheit on average. In 2023, with data showing the coldest winter temps falling between 15 and 20 degrees Fahrenheit, it's been shifted to Zone 8b.

Some zone shifts resulted in moving to an entirely new zone number, such as Seattle shifting from Zone 8b to Zone 9a. The overall trend was for zones to be pushed northward, but not all areas saw a shift. NPR has a helpful tool here in which you can enter your zip code, see what zone your city was previously in, what zone it's in now, and the temperature changes that caused the shift.

The bottom line is if you have a gardening book with a hardiness zones map printed before 2024, it's time for an updated map. Or check online to see what zone you fall in now to give your garden the best chance of thriving this year.

Images provided by P&G

Three winners will be selected to receive $1000 donated to the charity of their choice.

True

Doing good is its own reward, but sometimes recognizing these acts of kindness helps bring even more good into the world. That’s why we’re excited to partner with P&G again on the #ActsOfGood Awards.

The #ActsOfGood Awards recognize individuals who actively support their communities. It could be a rockstar volunteer, an amazing community leader, or someone who shows up for others in special ways.

Do you know someone in your community doing #ActsOfGood? Nominate them between April 24th-June 3rdhere.Three winners will receive $1,000 dedicated to the charity of their choice, plus their story will be highlighted on Upworthy’s social channels. And yes, it’s totally fine to nominate yourself!

We want to see the good work you’re doing and most of all, we want to help you make a difference.

While every good deed is meaningful, winners will be selected based on how well they reflect Upworthy and P&G’s commitment to do #ActsOfGood to help communities grow.

That means be on the lookout for individuals who:

Strengthen their community

Make a tangible and unique impact

Go above and beyond day-to-day work

The #ActsOfGood Awards are just one part of P&G’s larger mission to help communities around the world to grow. For generations, P&G has been a force for growth—making everyday products that people love and trust—while also being a force for good by giving back to the communities where we live, work, and serve consumers. This includes serving over 90,000 people affected by emergencies and disasters through the Tide Loads of Hope mobile laundry program and helping some of the millions of girls who miss school due to a lack of access to period products through the Always #EndPeriodPoverty initiative.

Visit upworthy.com/actsofgood and fill out the nomination form for a chance for you or someone you know to win. It takes less than ten minutes to help someone make an even bigger impact.

Robin Williams and Billy Crystal.

Actor Billy Crystal once referred to Robin Williams as “my closest friend,” and the pair worked together as well. They hosted 8 "Comic Relief" charity events in the ‘80s and '90s with Whoopi Goldberg and starred together in Kenneth Branagh's “Hamlet” (1996), "Father's Day" (1997), and Deconstructing Harry” (1997).

In 2014, 2 weeks after William’s death, Crystal was given the difficult job of eulogizing his dear friend at the 66th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards. Crystal only had a few minutes to express his love for Williams and describe his incredible contribution to comedy, but he did a commendable job speaking for the countless people left heartbroken by his death.


"It's the hardest thing I've ever had to do, [being] the spokesman for everybody in front of 17 million people,” Crystal later admitted.

[Video]

Over the course of 3 minutes, Crustal shared Williams' comic brilliance by recounting a time when he improvised as a Russian baseball player on live TV. He also shared his humanity by sharing how he spent time with his older relatives at family gatherings.

Finally, he summed up Williams by putting his indescribable brilliance into words.

“For almost 40 years he was the brightest star in a comedy galaxy,” Crystal said. “But while some of the brightest of our celestial bodies are actually extinct now, their energy long since cooled. But miraculously, since because they float in the heavens so far away from us now, their beautiful light will continue to shine on us forever. And the glow will be so bright, it’ll warm your heart, it’ll make your eyes glisten and you’ll think to yourselves, ‘Robin Williams—what a concept.’”

All illustrations are provided by Soosh and used with permission.

I have plenty of space.


It's hard to truly describe the amazing bond between dads and their daughters.

Being a dad is an amazing job no matter the gender of the tiny humans we're raising. But there's something unique about the bond between fathers and daughters.

Most dads know what it's like to struggle with braiding hair, but we also know that bonding time provides immense value to our daughters. In fact, studies have shown that women with actively involved fathers are more confident and more successful in school and business.


You know how a picture is worth a thousand words? I'll just let these images sum up the daddy-daughter bond.

A 37-year-old Ukrainian artist affectionately known as Soosh, recently created some ridiculously heartwarming illustrations of the bond between a dad and his daughter, and put them on her Instagram feed. Sadly, her father wasn't involved in her life when she was a kid. But she wants to be sure her 9-year-old son doesn't follow in those footsteps.

"Part of the education for my kiddo who I want to grow up to be a good man is to understand what it's like to be one," Soosh told Upworthy.

There are so many different ways that fathers demonstrate their love for their little girls, and Soosh pretty much nails all of them.

Get ready to run the full gamut of the feels.

1. Dads can do it all. Including hair.

relationships, fathers, dads

I’ve got this.

All illustrations are provided by Soosh and used with permission.

2. They also make pretty great game opponents.

daughters, daughter, father

Sharing life strategy.

All illustrations are provided by Soosh and used with permission.

3. And the Hula-Hoop skills? Legendary.

bonding, dad, child

Tight fitting hula-hoop.

All illustrations are provided by Soosh and used with permission.

4. Dads know there's always time for a tea party regardless of the mountain of work in front of them.

family bond, parent, child-bond

Dad makes time.

All illustrations are provided by Soosh and used with permission.

5. And their puppeteer skills totally belong on Broadway.

love, guidance, play

Let’s play.

All illustrations are provided by Soosh and used with permission.

6. Dads help us see the world from different views.

sociology, psychology,  world views

Good shoulders.

All illustrations are provided by Soosh and used with permission.

7. So much so that we never want them to leave.

travel, inspiration, guidance

More dad time please.

All illustrations are provided by Soosh and used with permission.

8. They can make us feel protected, valued, and loved.

protectors, responsibilities, home

Always the protector.

All illustrations are provided by Soosh and used with permission.

9. Especially when there are monsters hiding in places they shouldn't.

superhero, monsters, sleeping

Dad is superman.

All illustrations are provided by Soosh and used with permission.

daddy-daughter bond, leadership, kids

Never a big enough bed.

All illustrations are provided by Soosh and used with permission.

Seeing the daddy-daughter bond as art perfectly shows how beautiful fatherhood can be.


This article originally appeared on 04.09.16

Education

The surprising places you can't flush toilet paper, even with fully flushing toilets

Greece, Thailand and dozens of other countries have fully flushing toilets but "no flushing the TP" rules.

Even with fully flushing toilets, you can't always flush toilet paper.

In the U.S., it's normal in women's restrooms to see signs that say "Do not flush feminine products," so if you're traveling internationally and you see a sign that says not to flush paper down the toilet, you might assume it means the same thing.

It doesn't. If you're traveling abroad and you see a "no paper in the toilet" sign, it usually means all paper—including the toilet paper you use to wipe with.

My first time experiencing this reality was in Indonesia. The friend I was visiting lived in a large luxury home, modern in every way—except you had to toss your toilet paper into a bin instead of flushing it. Even rustic campsite pit toilets in the U.S. allow you to put toilet paper in them, so it went against every instinct I had not to toss the TP in the toilet after using it and put it in the little bin next to the toilet instead.

Then I encountered the same thing in Thailand, then in Greece, then in Patagonia in South America. These were all places with American-style flushing toilets, so it was unexpected that TP flushing was a no-no. If this is the norm in such vastly different regions, how common is "no TP flushing" around the world?


Surprisingly common for the 21st century, actually. As many advancements as we've made in engineering and technology, there are still lots of established plumbing systems underground that don't handle anything other than onesies and twosies very well.

For people from always-flush-the-TP countries, the inability to flush toilet paper can come as a shock, especially when the toilets seem no different than the ones at home. It's confusing that the toilet paper will physically flush down at the source, it just shouldn't be flushed because of what can happen on down the line.

In Greece, for example, the plumbing pipes are only two inches in diameter, compared to four inches in the U.S., which means paper clogs the pipes much more easily. Our Airbnb host in Athens told us if we smell a terrible sewage smell and hear a big motor running somewhere in the neighborhood, it's because people had flushed toilet paper and the sewage system had to be pumped. Brazil apparently has plumbing similar to Greece, and there are plenty of other countries in the same boat.

map of the world

Where in the world can you flush your toilet paper?

mindofahitchhiker.com

So where are all of these countries? Well, hard to say exactly, as the most recent map I've seen (from mindofahitchiker.com above) is from 2017 based on information from 2012, and things may have changed in some of those countries by now. On this map, the green countries are safe to flush, the orange are "it depends" and the red are generally no-flushers.

Most places where you can't flush paper have signs saying so, but sometimes they're in another language and sometimes there just aren't signs because the assumption is that you know. Thankfully, mindofahitchhiker.com also offers a handy "Flush or not to flush?" flowchart to help you figure it out:

Should you flush the toilet paper

Find out more at mindofahitchhiker.com

Surprisingly, putting TP in a bin isn't as disgusting as I imagined it would be, nor is it stinky like I assumed it would be. In Indonesia and Thailand, nearly all toilets had a "bum gun"—a handheld water sprayer attached to a hose that hung on the side of the toilet—which helped everything feel a bit cleaner on that front. (I loved it so much I bought one to install at home after my trip.) But even without the hoses, the TP bins have plastic liners and usually fliptop lids you open with your foot, so it doesn't really feel as unsanitary as it sounds. And those bins appeared to be emptied frequently almost everywhere I was, so it wasn't any grosser of an experience than using a public restroom in the U.S. (There's also a generally expected level of courtesy, it seems, to make sure your used TP is folded or wadded in such a way as to not gross out other people.)

It may not be ideal and it may fly in the face of our normal habits, but I'm sure we'd all agree that plumbing working properly is important. So if you're traveling to country you've never been to before, do a little research, follow the toilet signs, and when in doubt, toss instead of flush. The locals will thank you.

Counting sleep is a thing of the past.

If you’re having trouble catching those elusive zzz’s, you are not alone. Roughly 1 in 3 adults worldwide have insomnia, which we know can lead to a whole slew of things that negatively impact our health. Which is probably why social media is full of various hacks the promise a better night’s sleep.

Recently Denver-based board-certified dermatologist Dr. Scott Walter made a video touting the efficacy and benefits of “cognitive shuffling,” which he said was an “absolute game changer” for his own sleep schedule.

In the clip, Dr. Walter described cognitive shuffling as “a way to rearrange or reorganize your thoughts similar to shuffling a deck of cards — basically, distracting your mind from conscious thought patterns that may keep you awake.”

The “simple mental exercise” can be done in a number of ways.


“One is just thinking of random words or objects that have nothing to do with each other,” Walter said. “For example, cow, leaf, sandwich, butter, liver, things like that — just random words that make no sense.” Apparently there’s even an app out there called MySleepButton that will feed you random words to form a picture in your mind.

Alternatively, if you “don’t like random,” you could also pick a letter of the alphabet, and start counting your heartbeat. After every eight beats, you’ll think of a word that begins with that letter.

@denverskindoc Stitch w/ @sidneyraz say goodbye to the Sunday Scaries and fall asleep quickly with this doctor approved sleep hack! #sleephack #todayilearned #wishiknew #howtofallasleepfaster #cognitiveshuffling #cognitiveshuffle #sleephelp #doctor #medicine #sleep #sundayscaries #doctorhack #fallingasleep #anxiety ♬ original sound - Dr. Scott Walter | Derm

Walter went on to explain that cognitive shuffling is so effective because in addition to distracting your brain, it ““mimics what are called microdreams, which occur during the transition to sleep, [letting] your brain know, hey, it’s safe to fall asleep.”

Pasha Marlowe, MFT, who also improved her sleep routine with cognitive shuffling, posted her own TikTok claiming that it “interrupts the processes of memory, scheduling and problem solving.

She also explained a slightly different process, saying you could take a word and think of as many words as you can that also begin with the same letters in your chosen word. Her example was the word “PUMPKIN,” and beings listing out “prince, pie, peanut butter, product,” and so on. Then she might go onto the letter “U” and start naming things that start with that letter…you get the idea. Multiple resources recommend following this particular strategy.

Luc Beaudoin, cognitive scientists and creator of MySleepButton, told The Guardian that the hack is superior to the traditional insomnia-busting tactics like counting sleep because the former are so “boring” that virtually any other thought, including worries, will be perceived by the brain as “more compelling.”

But with cognitive shuffling, there’s enough gameplay and “nonsense” involved to distract our hypervigilant cortex from perceiving potential threats just long enough for us to drift off.

Cognitive shuffling isn’t without its limitations. The MySleepButton site says that this method is not effective under the follow conditions:

  • You are too tired to conjure up words, but not drowsy enough to fall asleep. (For example, when you wake up in the middle of the night.)
  • You don’t like to think deliberately when you are trying to fall asleep.
  • You find it difficult to come up with words that start with a given letter, despite practice.
  • You find spelling tedious.

For these instances, the site says you can lay back while MySleepButton does the work for you. Or, you could try a few other proven hacks, found here and here.