#4 The Worst - Part III
Research into sleep deprivation has shown that it can engender irritability, mood swings, and depression. It can cause individuals to suffer from impaired judgment, hallucinations, and result in loss of cognitive function. It can affect both physical and mental health, and in extreme cases, can lead to death.
Sleep is a time of repair and growth for the body. While the early stages of sleep are known to be physically restorative, it is thought that the deepest stage restores a person psychologically, and is necessary for mental stability. Known as REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, it is when new information is integrated into the brain, and this only occurs at the end of an entire sleep cycle.
I have made efforts to chronicle my own sleeplessness. In 2015, I spent an entire year with a journal at my bedside. I noted when I went to bed, when I rose, and all that occurred in between: the frequency with which I was awakened, at what time it took place, and for what reason. The results came as a surprise even to myself.
The least I was ever woken in the course of this year was 5 times, during a 7 hour period. Some nights were impossible to chart properly at all, as the noise levels were so extreme as to make any attempt at sleep futile. The record for being wakened on nights when sleep was an option was 22 times, in 8 and 1/2 hours. During this entire year, the longest period of unbroken sleep I was able to manage was 2 hours, 17 minutes.
There is an ebb and flow to the noise in prison, with episodes which are worse, and others when it is less so. Yet I think it is fair for me to say the year in which I kept these records was an average representation of how things are in any given time period, and can serve as an accurate baseline for the experiences of any given prisoner. Only those who are heavily medicated ever find it possible to get a full night’s sleep, and it is no exaggeration to say it has been more than 25 years since I have slept an unbroken 8 hours.
Every study which I have ever seen conducted into the effects of sleeplessness took place in a relatively short period of time. Mostly a few days or weeks. Few chronicle the effects of more than a year of sleep deprivation, and I do not recall any that extended into multiple years.
I doubt there is any reader who has not been sleep deprived at some point. Whether you were out too late partying, or pulling a double shift at work, you are well aware of how rotten and out of sorts you felt the next day. Every mother who has raised a small infant has spent months being sleep deprived, so can attest to its effect on a person, emotionally and physically.
Extend that feeling into months. Years. Decades. A lifetime. Imagine the state in which it would leave you. Can anyone ever believe that the results would be negligible?? It has been so long for me, I have ceased to notice it as an abnormal situation. But there is no doubt in my mind that I function at a level of perpetual cognitive impairment, as do most other prisoners. It is not a coincidence that the most common problems displayed amongst the prison population, such as irritability, depression, poor judgment, and the inability to retain information, perfectly reflect the symptoms of sleep deprivation! Even so, I have yet to ever see a substantive study done on prisoner sleep habits. It seems that someone would have recognized the importance of such a thing by now, but perhaps I am giving the "prison experts" too much credit. Due to all of these points, anyone should comprehend why I say noise, and the attendant lack of sleep, are some of the worst things about prison. This is true both on an individual level, and as a whole, for the detrimental effect it has on prisoner wellbeing and behavior everywhere.
Previous articles of the "The Worst" series:
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