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Op-Ed: Sleep deprivation is a major social problem

The net effect is that people are unbalanced, and so are their lives and behaviour, and so is the society. The “culture” of sleep deprivation is a pretty grim mix of semi-functional people, bodies and minds. The effects are very well known. Lack of sleep is murderously insidious, disrupting sleep cycles essential for body maintenance. All else pretty much follows from that. Nowhere is this more obvious than in social life, where people who can’t focus try to function, and do it badly.
Queensland Brain Institute researchers have found a range of factors which contribute to a net sleep deprivation syndrome:
• Stress
• Working hours
• Light exposure (too much light actually does interfere with shutting down to sleep)
• “Lifestyle”, meaning anything which is sleep disruptive on a self-inflicted basis, and/or daily activities which break the sleep cycle
• Sleep deprivation can even cause hallucinations
• For individuals, sleep deprivation is quite literally a form of torture. In fact, sleep deprivation is actually a routine type of torture, used worldwide in some of the world’s less impressive, more insane countries.
The Queensland Brain Institute has been looking at the social effects, and the findings are pretty grim. Extrapolate those symptoms to a whole society, and it’s not a nice look.
Effects of sleep deprivation
The effects include
• Emotional shutdown
• Stopping the dream process, an important psychological and metabolic process
• Moderate to severe lack of energy
• Added stress caused by lack of sleep which is itself caused by stress
• Aggravation by use of sleeping tablets and antidepressants
• The body’s natural repair cycle may not even be able to get started, with chronic sleep deprivation. It can run people down fast, and make any illness or medical condition worse.
So, are we all having fun now?
The social culture of no sleep has its roots in a particularly stupid jingle culture including “This city never sleeps”, “Workaholic”, “Working Late to Prove What Great Employees We Are”, etc. Some jobs, notably long haul transport, 24/7 jobs, and high stress emergency work, are particularly prone to these stresses. That’s leaving out the nuthouse environments in which so many people work, and those stresses, which can add a lot more stress.
The net effect of billions of sleep deprived people interacting with sleep deprived people doesn’t need explaining. It needs fixing. Sleep is the physical and psychological recovery process. If sleep is regular, everything’s likely to be in pretty good shape. If not, the gearbox starts to wear down, and that translates in to a truly lousy, ongoing, waking life.
Envision if you will:
• People who weren’t exactly geniuses when they were sleeping OK are now truly dysfunctional, unable to focus.
• Stress of reality is added to mental and physical stresses caused by lack of sleep.
• Tired people inevitably make mistakes. Their attention to what they’re doing, lacking sleep, cuts out every so often. The error factor in any type of basic function therefore goes up exponentially.
• Tired people on the road are notorious for causing accidents. So we now have a lot more people who are literally diagnosed as sleep deprived on the road.
You get the picture. Lack of sleep is a progressive train wreck, and it just keeps happening. On the social scale it translates in to irrational behaviour, bad call decisions, and highly charged emotional conditions which are fuelled by people feeling bad.
The high-stress, no-sleep social culture has to go, and stay gone. That includes the ridiculous “doing more with less” work spaces (if you take doing more with less to its logical conclusion, it’s “doing everything with nothing”.)
The effects of proper sleep management will be:
• Hundreds of billions of dollars saved in medical ramifications for everything from stress aggravated medical conditions to road accidents to bad social decisions.
• A generally healthier population, far less prone to many routine illnesses like flu, colds, etc.
• Some real, and for a change credible, social and individual peace and quiet, good for mental reassurance and personal wellbeing.
• In the workplace, a much less edgy, hostile environment which can only be far better than the usual horror stories.
A short story
To illustrate the social environment issues a bit more – I rang (as a customer) a business to ask to speak to someone I knew there. I got someone else who said with that self-assured, barely aware executive assurance we all despise so enthusiastically: “She doesn’t work here any more. We don’t need cry babies.”
Charming, eh? Consider the mentality which will pick up a phone and speak to a customer and say something like that. Does it sound rational to you? Why “cry baby”? What happened? Could that be a great place to work, or to do business with? Need I say, I took my business elsewhere, pronto.
Sleep recovery basics
A few standard solutions for good sleep:
1. A daily routine. Go to bed at the same time, create a new sleep rhythm.
2. Create a good, secure sleep space where you’re not inflicted with noise and too much light.
3. Don’t eat crap food, which can be quite enough of itself to mess up your sleep.
4. Green vegetables are the standard basic dietary cure for poor digestion and other issues which tend to show up when you lack sleep.
5. Don’t do things which run you down, like insane hours.
6. Exercise! No need to kill yourself. Just work out a bit doing anything safe enough to do regularly, and you’ll start to rebuild.
7. Don’t kill yourself putting added stress and demands on yourself when you’re not feeling well. That can only make it worse. Take the day or the week or the rest of your life off, if necessary.
8. Avoid stressful places and people. They’re just not worth it. That’s a social skill everyone learns, but rarely uses often enough.
9. Above all – Don’t stuff around with sleep problems. Make them top priority, and fix them. You’ll thank yourself for decades afterwards.
Sleep, eat well and happily, allow yourself some pleasures, and to hell with anyone who gets in the way.

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Written By

Editor-at-Large based in Sydney, Australia.

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