The hellish culture of sleep deprivation

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…


About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

7 responses to “The hellish culture of sleep deprivation

  • Yvonne Ryves

    The planetary alignments, shifts, new moon, lunar eclipse, super moon, etc etc have all been conspiring to ensure I am, at the moment, sleep deprived so this post completely resonated with me in a way that the previous 8-10 hr a night me wouldn’t have understood. I’m hoping that as things shift further I may return to a ‘good nights sleep’. It can’t come quickly enough for me.

  • Leeby Geeby

    Cheers for that insight. Yes, I’ve battled with sleep for years and years. I finally realised that I just don’t need to have a full eight hours. I can get by on six very comfortably. The belief that I have to have eight full hours of sleep was actually the obstacle. Once I just accepted that six was natural for me, with regular exercise I began to to have way more energy, stamina and focus and keep the weight off. If I do have a full eight hours sleep I feel like crap. So yeah quality over qnuantity is the thing for me!

    • Nimue Brown

      So important to know what, exactly, your body needs. We’re all different.

      • Leeby Geeby

        Indeed. Thank you good to hear from you. I’m embarrassed that it took me so long to figure out. Correct sleep patterns along with healthy body weight are two of the enduring myths. For every science study that tells you one thing there is another that says different. People need to figure these things out for themselves!

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