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Insufficient Sleep and Mental Health Symptoms
By Caterina Spinaris
Published: 09/16/2019

Sleepdeprivation Sleep is a non-negotiable biological necessity that affects brain function and physical health. (For more information, see The Power of Restorative Sleep, by Kirsten Weir, in the May 2018 issue of the Correctional Oasis.)

In a recently reported study, insufficient sleep was also found to be strongly associated with a wide array of mental health symptoms among college students, including varsity athletes.

And this association showed a dose-response relationship between insufficient sleep and reported mental health symp-toms. That is, with each additional night of insufficient sleep, risk for depressed mood was increased by 21%; for hope-lessness and anger, by 24%; for anxiety and desire to self-harm, by 25%; for functional problems, by 28%; and for thoughts of suicide, by 28%.

Data on 110,496 college students, including 8462 varsity athletes, were gathered from the 2011–2014 waves of the Na-tional College Health Assessment, and the statistical analyses controlled for age, sex, race/ethnicity, survey year, insom-nia and depressed mood. Insufficient sleep was measured by the number of nights that students reported that they did not feel rested upon awakening. Mental health symptoms were measured by the number of symptoms reported during the prior month.

These findings are highly disturbing and definitely relevant in the case of corrections professionals. In some jurisdictions custody staff work mandatory overtime shifts 2, 3 or even 5 times weekly, for months and even years on end, severely affecting their ability to get more than 3-5 hours of sleep per day. Moreover, changes to shift schedules result in irregular sleep routines, which can affect staff’s ability to fall and/or stay asleep.

This study raises some hard questions in relation to corrections.

If insufficient sleep has such a detrimental and cumulative impact on young, healthy adults’ mental well-being, how much more might the mental health of perhaps not so healthy middle-aged corrections staff be affected?

How might mental health be affected when insufficient sleep is coupled with the consumption of large amounts of alcohol or binge drinking—both of which affect brain functions?

What role might insufficient sleep play in a corrections officer’s outburst of anger or excessive use of force at work?

What role might insufficient sleep play in corrections officers’ elevated rates of depression, anxiety and suicide?

These are all serious and pertinent issues that must be addressed.

This article as been reprinted with permission from the August 2019 Issue of Correctional Oasis, a monthly e-publication of "Desert Waters Correctional Outreach".

Editor's note: Caterina Spinaris is the Executive Director at Desert Waters Correctional Outreach and a Licensed Professional Counselor in the State of Colorado. She continues to contribute to the field of corrections staff well-being individually and organizationally, in particularly regarding issues of traumatic stress due to exposure to violence, injury, death on the job, and also issues of organizational climate improvement.

Visit the Caterina Spinaris page

Other articles by Spinaris:


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