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The Impossibility of a Good Night's Sleep

If you didn’t feel the impact of less sleep when the clocks turned back last weekend, today - World Sleep Day - it is worth considering the impact, especially on those without a bed in which to sleep.

“Joe,” a man who has been homeless several times, knows how difficult it can be to get enough sleep.

“Where and how you sleep is often a matter of discipline when residentially challenged,” said Joe.

“If you're sleeping in a car or RV, shelter or friend's couch, you have the issue of finding a place to sleep and being up and about before the rest of the world is. Usually in a shelter, you have to be up and out by a certain time. If you’re sleeping in a vehicle, you have to have it moved by a certain time. If you're working you have to find ways to make the job fit your situation or vice versa. You're on others’ schedules. And this is where sleep deprivation hits the hardest. It adds up.”

"For individuals without permanent housing, sleep is difficult to come by. When there’s no way to secure your personal belongings, it’s dangerous and frightening to be as vulnerable as we are when we’re in a truly restful sleep."

As a result, sleep becomes a matter of when-you-can, where-you-can. And often, you just can’t, leading to a host of other mental and physical ailments.

According to studies, sleeplessness contributes to obesity, diabetes, poor diet, and unproductiveness. Sleep deprivation has also been linked to an increase in mental illness, drug abuse among teenagers, and higher rates of violence and aggression.

The dangers of the elements - in colder climates, even nodding off in the winter may be a death sentence (see Alone. Exposed. And Frozen Solid.), the possibility of attack, and the physical maladies that arise from perpetual dampness and grime make achieving good sleep an impossible feat.

According to one advocate, who himself has been homeless, shelters are often considered to be best option (by those who aren’t homeless), yet shelters come with their own set of problems.

"You check in to a homeless shelter and hope for the best. But the ‘best’ is not offered at shelters. You'll find a bed located in a large warehouse type room with anywhere from 25 to 150 other homeless people. There will be talking, laughing or yelling, getting into fights (verbal and physical) making noises, the mentally ill will be trying to wind down from their constant hallucinations. After a couple hours, most everyone has settled in to sleep, and you'll get some sleep.

When the shelters are full, those without full-time housing take refuge in other spaces, which offer varying degrees of safety. Cars provide some measure of privacy but are far from ideal. Storage units, motels, and tent cities are other options.

“I haven’t slept in days,” says one unnamed man. He says he isn’t homeless — he lives in transitional housing — but nonetheless fears for his safety at night.

“It’s better than when I was living on the streets but not by a lot. I don’t worry about them stealing my stuff because I don’t have a lot of stuff, but I worry about, you know ... other stuff. At night.”

“The thing we know from research is that housing people improves their health and reduces cost,” said Steve Berg, Vice President for Programs and Policy at Washington, DC's National Alliance to End Homelessness. “There are striking reductions in the use of hospitals and emergency rooms. Mainly who it saves money for is the healthcare system. And I think people in the healthcare system have started to understand this.”

Still, there remain huge gaps in the care of those who sleep outside.

When the weather turns cold, cities open warming shelters. When populations are hungry, food banks and soup kitchens provide nourishment. There are resources for assistance paying utility bills, applying for jobs, even getting to and from work.

But aside from low-income housing, which is often in high demand and still often unaffordable, there is no sleep resource. And without a sleep resource, there seems to be little chance for solving the myriad problems associated with sleeplessness.

“Suffering from a lack of sleep, just how is a homeless person supposed to do all the things necessary for overcoming their homelessness?”

Based on an article by Hanna Brooks Olsen, The Atlantic




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