Sleep. Most of us can’t get enough of it. At least every second person in the Western world experiences some kind of disturbance and one in five of us have long standing problems with sleeping. If, for three or more nights a week it takes you longer than 30 minutes to get to sleep; or you wake up after falling asleep and stay awake for more than 30 minutes; or you don’t get six and a half hours sleep and this lasts for over a month, it’s chronic.
Sleep deprivation can take away our positive thoughts and make us obsess about negative ones.
These definitions may help us label the problem, but sleep is more than counting the hours of unconsciousness. What really matters are the outcomes of too little effective sleep. Sleep deprivation can take away our positive and caring thoughts and make us focus on negative ones. Just one night of disordered sleep heightens our responses to fearful or angry faces, whilst at the same time lowering our responses to sad faces.
It is at work where these negative effects on our thinking can be most dangerous because they are subtle. Sleep deprived workers are more likely when faced with a Go/NoGo Task to select the NoGo option. In clinical care this translates into a reduced ability to interact with others, pick up on nonverbal cues and accurately identify our patients’ emotions.
Motivation also suffers and as we have seen with young doctors, there is little belief in being rewarded for hard work.
This is not just an issue for workers, although most of the research has been on employed or employable people. Regular snoring, twitching or kicking legs, teeth grinding, sleep walking or talking, or violent behaviors arising from disordered sleep can make a sleeping partner less empathetic and is a recipe for relationship disaster.
For those who do not have the luxury of a comfortable bed, little is known about their disordered sleep. Thousands of refugees worldwide are living in places where getting a good night’s sleep is difficult. We just don’t know what effect sleeping rough has on these new highly mobile populations and whether lack of sleep contributes to the negative thoughts that incite violent actions. Not an area of priority in this security conscious world but maybe it should be.