“The right to sleep”: The biggest civil & human rights problem you’ve never heard of

The right to sleep doesn't begin and end with the problem of homelessness.

Is the opportunity to get sleep at night a human right? A civil right?

sleeping rough at Charing Cross The Right to Sleep
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.

The environment

Pollutants (noise, air, and light) are costing people their ability to get adequate sleep.

The workplace

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:

Is the opportunity to get sleep at night a human right? A civil right?

Check out what Sharon Brett, Attorney for the US Department of Justice, said about this in 2015.

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.

About Tamara Kaye Sellman (621 Articles)

1 Comment on “The right to sleep”: The biggest civil & human rights problem you’ve never heard of

  1. Ibrahim Waheed // December 9, 2018 at 11:32 pm // Reply

    I come from that much-touted paradise, the Maldives. And I am someone who goes around in a sleep deprived state often because of a stupid and utterly senseless government policy which issues road works for the middle of the night and the early hours of the morning.
    We are a long way from true democracy, the rights of the common man, social justice, etc.
    The Maldives is paradise only if you are among its elite rich. Or a corrupt politician.
    Otherwise it can be hell.

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