The Impact Of Chronic Sleep Loss On The Homeless

“When you sleep on the streets, anything you have in your pockets might be taken; people constantly try to mug you and beat you up – so, in the end, it becomes easier to stay awake.”


That’s what Taz, a 61-year-old Nigerian homeless man who has lived in and around Shoreditch, East London, for over 40 years, told me when I took to the streets a couple of months ago to ask homeless people about how sleep deprivation affects their mental health. The niggling thought I couldn’t escape was, “Why have I never read about this area of homelessness before?” And when I saw the news last week that Scotland’s government has pledged to reduce homeless people’s stays in hostels and B&Bs to no longer than seven days, my shock turned to anger. I wondered why on earth England hadn’t taken the same measures to fight the injustices homeless people face – particularly at a time when the latest data from the charity Chain shows that there has been a rise in rough sleeping across London over the past year. This is an ongoing, even worsening issue. Homeless people? Trouble sleeping? Groundbreaking. But it isn’t just a bad night’s sleep every once in a while that we’re dealing with here. Think about it. If you have a late Saturday night and attempt to recover all day on Sunday, you end up slumped over your desk on Monday, exhausted and scrolling through takeaway options for dinner. Crucially, though, by the Tuesday – or Wednesday if you aren’t one for fighting a hangover – you’re refreshed, because you’ve caught up on the sleep you lost. Homeless people aren’t afforded that luxury. For them, every day is a battle with the tiredness that others are lucky enough to experience just once or twice a week. Unless, of course, you too, suffer with sleep-related issues such as insomnia. That, on top of the fact that constantly having to protect themselves and facing a whole host of other issues are all made worse by sustained sleep loss. John Groeger, a professor of psychology at Nottingham Trent University, who is also a sleep therapist, says that although sleep loss might “seem like such a trivial concern, it is actually critical to physical and mental health, and the kind of chronic sleep loss that homeless people experience hugely affects their everyday lives.” Talking to Taz, this was clearly what had happened with him. After explaining why his wife and daughters had left him to start a new life in Prague, he told me that slee