Cat Napping

Posted: April 2, 2008 in Health, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Misconceptions, Stereotypes

I stopped into a McDonald’s for lunch this afternoon.

After getting my order I sat at one of the tables and began to eat my salad when I happened to look up to see a homeless gentleman. As seems to be common with homeless people, he was sitting a table in a corner away from the rest of the customers. What caught my eye in particular is that while there was a cup of coffee on the table in front of him, he seemed to be dozing off.  

In my minds eye I could visualize the many times I’ve seen many of the homeless in my community who were either dozing off or completely asleep somewhere in public. Then I realized that seeing a homeless person sleeping in some public area during the day was probably a common sight in most communities. And, with so many homeless who are seen sleeping in libraries, on public benches, on city buses and the like, I could understand how the perception that homeless persons are lazy would be perpetuated.

I’ll admit that I know a number of homeless who actually are content to "lounge about" doing nothing. And, yes, some of them are just downright lazy. I also know quite a number who don’t fit the stereotype of the "lazy bum" and who are trying to do something with their life. But, fatigue among the homeless is actually something that is the "norm." And it has to do with lack of quality "sleep."

During the time that I was a "client" at the homeless shelter, I don’t recall ever getting a full night’s sleep. I would wake over and over throughout the night. And so did many others. I don’t know why that is. And, I never really thought about until today. All I knew back then was that I would always be tired the next day.

Afterward, when I "moved in" to my tent, things weren’t that much better. I’d always sleep with the proverbial "one eye open," always listening for sounds that would indicate either the police or "an intruder." Safety first, you know.

The problem with the lack of sleep is that you find yourself dozing off without warning – regardless of where you are at. The body needs sleep and it’s going to try and get it, when and however it can – with or without your permission. That’s just the way the body’s biology works.

On her blog several days ago, a friend of mine published a post called, "The Power of Naps." It was based on the combined efforts of Jessica Payne of Harvard University, and Matthew Walker, of the University of California at Berkeley.

While her post was primarily about the benefits of taking naps, I found the first two sentences of the paper particularly interesting.

Sleep is such a fundamental biological drive that it’s shared by practically every species, from fruit flies to humans. Indeed, sleep is so essential that animals will die as quickly from sleep deprivation as they will from food deprivation.

The effects of sleep deprivation have been known for quite some time. In fact, sleep deprivation has been used as an interrogation technique by military and intelligence agencies throughout the world.

The lack of quality sleep can – and does – bring about a number of side effects that their toll on a persons physical, emotional and psychological well being. Every area of person’s life is negatively affected by the lack of sleep. In some people, the lack of sleep can result in psychotic behavior. In others, it can bring about clinical depression. The lack of sleep has been shown to reduce a person’s ability to make rational decisions.

But the lack of sleep can also produce physiological problems as well. It can cause a person’s auto-immune, endocrine and other vital body systems to function at reduced levels. These reductions can make a person vulnerable to a variety of diseases and chronic disorders.

Homeless person, as a direct result of a unstable "housing environment" are prone to higher incidences of illness than their "housed" counterparts.

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless Fact Sheet, "Health Care and Homelessness,"

Poor health is closely associated with homelessness.

The rates of both chronic and acute health problems are extremely high among the homeless population. With the exception of obesity, strokes, and cancer, homeless people are far more likely to suffer from every category of chronic health problem.

The poor health of the homeless is further exacerbated by the lack of sleep. The inability of the body to acquire enough rest to "heal" means that the homeless take more time to "get well" than it does the rest of us.

There is also an additional "side effect" to a homeless person’s lack of sleep that many people never think about it: it costs the taxpayers quite a bit of money each year, in the form of providing "homeless medical services."

Although I can’t be sure, I have this suspicion that it may cost less for taxpayers to fund adding additional shelter beds than it is to have to cover medical costs.

The next time you see a homeless person who seems to be dozing off somewhere, before you look away in disgust, imagine what it must be like. Don’t just pass it off as laziness. Put yourself in their shoes.

Do you think you’d be able to keep your eyes open if you didn’t get a full night of restful sleep? How long do you think you could go without proper sleep? Two days? Five days? Or, would you find yourself dozing off after the first day?

While naps may be beneficial – take it from me, they aren’t enough. Been there, done that.

At the end of my friend’s post you’ll find these two lines,

Nonetheless, we should still remember what our mothers might say: "a nap is no substitute for a good night’s sleep." Maybe it is time we all woke up to this reality.

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this very important fact. So many times, I forget to be grateful for a safe place to lay my head.

    You are a wonder. Keep on blogging. You made my day.

  2. AnAmerican says:

    You offer great perspective on yet another issue of homelessness that many of us never think of!

    Thank you for your regular dose of insight into the many aspects of the homeless population. (And like the above commentator, I find myself blessed with the comfort of a roof and place to sleep safely at night!)

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