I don’t know about you, but I wish I got more sleep. There are some days when my best moments consist of the time it takes to burrow deep under my covers, sink into a mattress that gently contours to the shape of my body, and gradually drift off into that drowsy state just before sleep. I often catch myself smiling out of sheer gratitude for the peacefulness of those moments. I relax easily because I feel warm, safe, and comfortable.
And, those moments didn’t just happen. I took time to prepare for bed, something psychologists these days are calling, “practicing good sleep hygiene.” I dim the lights in my house a couple of hours before bedtime. I shower, and afterward find the coziest pajamas I can. I might read or journal with a cup of tea. I’ve got room darkening curtains up in my bedroom, so when I’m ready to sleep at night, it’s nice and dark. It’s quiet. If the kids decide not to wake up in the middle of the night, I’m all set to enjoy a full night’s rest, which is critical for maintaining my physical and mental health.
You can probably guess where I’m headed with this. Our friends who live outside or find a place to sleep in a shelter are not sinking into cozy beds at night, safe in a cocoon of relaxation and renewal. A shelter can be noisy, uncomfortable, and unsafe; a warehouse-like situation that may protect you from the elements, but offer little else. As far as sleep outside goes…I’ll just ask this: how long did it take you the last time you went camping before you started dreaming about sleeping in your bed again?
Sleep deprivation is a huge issue people experiencing homelessness face, and the longer you are sleep deprived, the worse it becomes for your brain and the rest of your body. It can be one of the culprits linked to a host of problems including mental illness, aggression, and a suppressed immune system.
On one of my first days working in the Community Engagement Center, I can remember walking into the kitchen to get a cup of coffee and noting just how many of our guests seemed completely exhausted. Tired enough to curl up on one of our benches, or the floor, and sleep (and sometimes snore) despite the commotion going on around them. I wondered about it for a moment before it hit me. You would be tired, too, I thought, if you’d just spent the night in almost any place other than your own bed.
I heard someone recently remark that “homeless people can seem so lazy. Why do they sleep all day? If they weren’t sleeping, they could go get a job. Save some money. Eventually get a house.”
Ah, the American dream. It’s too bad it’s an illusion.
It’s also too bad that it seems to give people the right to judge without even stopping to imagine what life for another person might be like.
Life working the night shift. Life walking the streets at night just to keep warm, or because there was no safe place to rest. Life being pregnant, and trying to find a comfortable position to sleep on the cot at the shelter.
How do you feel when you’ve gone through periods of sleeplessness, or even, if you slept in the wrong position? And what have you been able to do about it?