Can Sleep Loss Make Us More Violent?

I love sleep.  My life has the tendency to fall apart when I'm awake, you know?   Ernest Hemingway

Everybody enjoys a good night's sleep.  While there are different theories about why we first evolved the need for sleep,  it seems essential in purging the brain's toxins, promoting rest and regeneration, and even helping the brain encode new memories. 

For people who don't get the recommended amount of sleep (typically seven to nine hours each night), the consequences can be severe.   Though we all suffer from the occasional bout of insomnia, research looking at total sleep deprivation have shown that sleep debt can lead to impaired judgment, loss of emotional control, reduced mental flexibility, and (at least in some cases), psychotic symptoms.   With an estimated thirty-three percent of Americans reporting loss of sleep for various reasons, it's hardly surprising that sleep deprivation has been linked to industrial and automobile accidents as well as judgment errors in just about any task you can think of.   And it's also linked to a wide range of mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.

But can it also be linked to aggression?  There is certainly no question that  aggressive behaviour is distressingly common.   In 2012 alone, there were almost seven million reports of violent victimization.  But not all aggressive behaviour leads to criminal charges.   In most cases, episodes of  verbal assault, cyberbullying,  road rage, etc.,  often go unreported but they can still have a a negative impact on how people live their lives.  Understanding why people act aggressively and finding ways to prevent this kind of behaviour is a major motivator for researchers and lawmakers alike.

To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post.




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