Sleep deprivation ‘unrecognized among the homeless’

Credit: Isabelle Esselin

Credit: Isabelle Esselin

It may seem the least of their worries, but not being able to get a decent night’s sleep is “without a doubt … the biggest issue for homeless people.”

That’s according to Kevin Barbieux, who calls himself a “chronically homeless” man who blogs as The Homeless Guy.

His post on the need for sleep appeared in June 2013, but was featured in August in an article on The Atlantic magazine’s Citylab website.

For the homeless, the enemies of sleep include:

  • the elements;
  • being awakened by the police or other homeless (and non-homeless) people who want to bum a cigarette, for example;
  • having to remain vigilant to protect possessions and to avoid being attacked; and
  • even staking out a patch of ground.

Shelters rarely provide a good night’s sleep, Barbieux added, noting that shelter occupants sometimes get into loud discussions or fights, and some of the mentally ill among them wrestle with hallucinations. The night is short with check-out time at most shelters before 6 a.m.

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

“What looks like laziness to the casual bypasser is actually sleep deprivation,” Barbieux wrote. “Suffering from a lack of sleep, just how is a homeless person supposed to do all the things necessary for overcoming their homelessness?”

“Sleep deprivation is often an unrecognized problem among our homeless patients,” agrees Dr. Eowyn Rieke, a family physician in Portland, Ore., who works with Outside In, a medical, support and advocacy organization for homeless youth.

“They often lack a safe place to sleep, which can start a pattern of taking drugs—methamphetamine, for example—to stay awake at night and then using alcohol, marijuana or heroin to sleep,” she told Healing Hands, a publication of the clinician’s network of the U.S. National Health Care for the Homeless Council.

“We don’t talk enough about these concerns with our [homeless] patients.” — Dr. Eowyn Rieke, family physician, Portland, Oregon

“Low-quality sleep negatively affects one’s ability to think clearly or engage with others, making it harder to get a job or housing,” she was quoted in the Spring 2014 issue.
“We don’t talk enough about these concerns with our patients,” Dr. Rieke added. “Perhaps we assume that the only solution to the problem is permanent housing, which is difficult to provide.”
She said she opens a discussion of the length and quality of their sleep by asking patients where they sleep at night. She then asks them to keep a sleep diary for five to seven days, which helps in exploring ways to improve sleep. But Dr. Rieke urged caution in prescribing sleep medications because they may increase a homeless patient’s ability to respond to dangerous situations.~TM

2 responses

  1. Terry, you are going gangbusters with your postings…all interesting. In fact the piece on plagarism I have just circulated to a few folks – we had a dinner table chat last week about turnitin! how is Roxe? was Ottawa successful in every respect? cheers Adele

    Date: Tue, 2 Sep 2014 13:48:34 +0000 To:

  2. Reblogged this on brainsections and commented:
    Sleep deprivation can age you and undermine your health. After 4 years on the street, I looked 10 or more years older. I do miss the senior discounts I used to get since I am rested and don’t look as broken down. Haha

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