Sleep deprivation is torture and is recognised under international torture laws as such. I know from personal experience that if you are constantly deprived of sleep, there comes a point when you will start to do or say anything at all that you think might end the nightmare. Because (trigger warning on the rest of this paragraph, but the blog content afterward should be less alarming and not triggery) the relatively brief misery of forced, painful, humiliating unwanted sex is actually less bad to deal with than extreme sleep deprivation. Both cause longer term emotional and psychological distress, but trust me, when you’re agonisingly sleep deprived, these are not things you can weigh up.
Again, speaking from experience, sleep deprivation messes with your thinking and makes it very hard to make good choices. It slows the mind and impairs judgement. It can cause hallucination – amusing at a weekend festival perhaps, nightmarish when you’re trying to deal with real life and can no longer quite tell what’s real. Waking dreams invading your consciousness in the wrong context are a real problem. There isn’t an illness or issue out there that won’t be made worse by sleep deprivation. I gather (from New Scientist a couple of years ago) that studies show a distinct correlation between sleep deprivation and weight gain. It really isn’t good for us.
Other studies show that as a whole we have a sleep deprived culture with a lot of people reporting far less sleep than they want. Work that follows you home, awkward and changing work patterns that shift when you can sleep, and thus disrupt your sleep. Not enough exercise to tire the body. Too much mental stress to be able to settle. Light pollution. Noise pollution. Over-stimulated environments. Too much caffeine to try and function the rest of the time. We’re tired, most of us, and that we are tired is not taken as a reason to do differently. You still have to turn up to the job when it suits your employer. You still have to go to school bright and early – or get up and get kids to school. Most of us are not in control of our timetables, and if we desperately needed more sleep, there’s not much we can do about it.
Sleep deprivation is a recognised form of torture. This is not taken into account when ordering people’s change of shift, and I’ve seen the consequences for friends. It’s not taken into account for the parents of young babies when they need to go back to work. It’s not at all recognised by the on demand 24/7 lifestyle we get pushed towards.
I’m a sleep evangelist, because there aren’t many things in this life that can’t be helped with more sleep. Any illness is more quickly overcome if we can sleep enough. Good, deep sleep helps with many kinds of mental distress (not the staying in bed drowsing in apathy semi sleep of the depressed, though). Sleep helps with learning. We don’t learn well if we aren’t sleeping enough because our brains need that time to consolidate new input. This applies to new experiences as well as deliberate study. If we sleep well, our moods are better, we aren’t as short tempered, we are less likely to get the threadbare exhaustion that paves the way to depression and anxiety. A well rested, clear thinking person makes better judgements. Sleep more. If you don’t need an alarm to wake up, you know you’re doing it right.
Pagan Dreaming is not just about dreaming, it’s also about the context for dreaming – namely sleep. I chose the title because it’s punchy and attractive, but in terms of what is in the book, I think you can tell it was written by a sleep evangelist, and there’s a lot in there about wilder, more natural, more beneficial approaches to sleeping. After all, if your sleep patterns are lousy, your stressed and anxious mind is never going to get round to the really interesting dreaming. I learned this stuff the hard way…