This month, SHC takes on the invisible humanitarian crisis regarding “the right to sleep.”
People, from all walks of life, all over the world, and for all kinds of reasons, are not being allowed to sleep. Even if they wanted to.
What is the right to sleep?
This isn’t a story about insomnia… normally caused by internal forces. This is the story of the challenges many face when it comes to sleep because something they have no control over individually is impeding their efforts to sleep.
Who routinely faces challenges to the right to sleep?
Homeless people are the obvious target and suffer the greatest outright need. But consider these external barriers to healthy sleep.
Pollutants (noise, air, and light) are costing people their ability to get adequate sleep.
- Light pollution from the favored LED lighting in public spaces is giving entire communities insomnia.
- Noise pollution from urban sprawl means people who moved to get away from the noise are now surrounded by it.
- Smog and air pollution challenge people with respiratory problems every single night of their lives.
It’s not just the environment that is making sleep a lost cause for so many. The workplace has created unlivable conditions for many workers:
- People who must work multiple shifts or jobs just to pay the bills are getting by on scarce sleep to do so.
- Salaried workers frequently work outside the 9-to-5 schedule first implemented during labor reforms. On top of that, their jobs force them to take meetings across time zones that cut into their sleep time. Traveling schedules also spoil opportunities for quality sleep thanks to jet lag. They still have to work during “normal” working hours.
- Truckers sometimes need to cross entire states in order to sleep as local anti-idling laws prevent them from pulling over to refresh themselves.
- Even our children, whose “jobs” are (or should be) to go to school, often start class too early. Meanwhile, circadian science proves they should be sleeping later to perform better and stay healthy.
- The military isn’t fairing much better. The Navy is rewriting policy right now after at least two collisions by naval vessels in the last year were caused by sleep deprived sailors.
Society and culture
There are social reasons that threaten the ability to get sleep:
- Sick and disabled people with limited income don’t get appropriate care for their medical conditions or mental health issues. Untreated or under-treated problems lead to struggles with sleep which just make them sicker.
- People who are bullied or profiled due to their race, gender, or orientation face countless anxious and sleepless nights because of it.
- New parents are afraid to take unpaid family leave. They need the income and may worry they will lose their jobs. So they pay for it by losing sleep at night, with zero daytime opportunities for recovery sleep during the critical first quarter of parenthood. So begins the irreversible fall into sleep debt.
- Disaster victims need their sleep to survive the aftermath of these traumatic events. If they’ve lost their homes and are living in shelters, that’s not likely to happen. First responders with no backup to support them also struggle.
Is the opportunity to get sleep at night a human right? A civil right?
But forget about defining it for a moment. Will fixing problems with homelessness, workplace standards, environmental damage, socioeconomic stress, injustice for the “Other” in our culture, and equitable family leave help repair these obstacles?
SHC doesn’t have the answers. What SHC does have, though, is a platform. Ours is an opportunity to raise awareness, to inspire more and better efforts to find solutions for these tough sleep-related battles.
Stay tuned this month as SHC explores the dark side of sleep nobody’s talking about.