A Good Night’s Sleep

October 10, 2010

Yesterday I found this article that stuck with me.  In a nutshell, it made the (obvious) point that poor sleep adversely affects kids, especially those in poverty.  (*1)  My first thought was, “Well, of course.  Did they really need to do all sorts of research and write a scientific paper to “prove” this?”

Sadly, my second thought was, “the answer is “yes.”  Absolutely.”

Because this is the thing: this information is somehow not obvious to many folks out in the world.  Mostly I’m speaking about the more-privileged folks who do not believe that they are  situationally-effected by everything that goes on around them.  Those that think to themselves, “I wouldn’t have all these problems that the poor/PoC/other oppressed peoples have if I was in their shoes.”  Just pull yourself up by the freaking bootstraps, right?


So I’m writing this for them.  People who just don’t have experiences that help them understand how environmental stressors and situations  change things.  Those who think that there are simple solutions to the problems of education, poverty, racial inequality, etc. in the world, based on their own particular set of experiences.

Now, I know there isn’t a whole lot of experience that compares, so it’s not your fault that this doesn’t make sense to you.  However, I think this article gave me something we all can understand and jump off from.

Here we go:

So.  Remember that last time you didn’t sleep well and had to do something important the next day?  Yeah – that time.   Maybe you got only 3 hours of sleep.  Or you kept waking up throughout the night.  Maybe you were sick.  Whatever.  But you just slept like sh–, right?

Okay.  Now think about how you felt at that time.  You woke up, feeling awful, wishing you could just go back to bed.  But you couldn’t.  Because you had something important to do.  So you rallied, pulled yourself out from under the covers, and began your day.

Chances are, when you got to where you were heading (let’s pretend it was work right now), you weren’t fully there.  Like some of your mind was missing.  You tried to caffeinate.  Drank a bunch of coffee, maybe.  But that just kind of made you antsy, with little help to your tired mind.

You were kind of irritated, right?  To the point where, when that semi-annoying co-worker – who always asks you the same stupid questions, or tells the same stupid joke, or whatever – came up to you, you just didn’t have the capacity to be cool about it.  You couldn’t smile and nod.  So you just kind of pushed them out of the way or said something rude.

And you didn’t feel good about it.  You saw their hurt look.  But you just didn’t have it in you today, right?  You were too tired.

So we skip ahead a bit.  The day goes by.  You’re just doing all you can to dodge social contact, just make it through the day.  Your work is sloppy, if you do it at all.  You keep nodding off.  You’re short with your co-workers, kind of snotty, maybe.  When you have to give that report that you’ve been prepping your ass off – well, you kind of f— it up, because you lost track in the middle.  Your boss gives you ish about it, which pisses you off further, so when that annoying co-worker bothers you again?


Whatever.  You make it through the day.  You didn’t get fired or anything.  You’re just tired, irritated, and ready to get the Hell home.

When you do, your roommate (or partner, or family, whoever) starts nit-picking you about the freaking dishes or the mail or the garbage or something else stupid that just doesn’t matter, so why don’t they just shut the f— up and leave you alone!?

Oops.  Did we just say that out loud?  Sorry, you’re just really tired, you know?  You didn’t mean it.  Bla bla bla.

End thought-experiment.

Okay.  So we’ve all had a day like this.  Probably more than one.  Maybe a week like it.  Or more.  Some time when simply being tired changed us.  Made us less able to handle out sh–.  Less patient.  Less careful.  Didn’t do our best work . . .

It happens to all of us from time to time.

Except . . . sometimes it happens to folks ALL the time.  Like that single parent we’re always talking about – who has to work a ton and take care of a kid with no time for her/himself.  Or that kid who has to try to sleep while dad’s drunk, or they’re worrying about their cousin getting shot, or . . . whatever.

And this particular example is just about sleep.  I’m not even talking about anxiety and stress.  I’m not talking about when your sympathetic nervous system (think “fight” or “flight”) is on constantly because you live in a literal or figurative war-zone and your body really does believe it’s about to die or at least be hurt at any second.  Y’all really bringing your best when that is going on?  (*2)

Yeah, right.

And yeah – this is all so very obvious.  Except for when it’s not.

This is life for the majority of the world.  When the “just pick yourself up” and “just work harder” slogans just aren’t enough.  How much harder can I work when I work two jobs for no money and I never sleep or stop being stressed about my two jobs and no money?  Really, though?  “Just work harder?”

And yes – some people are freaking super-human and able to be completely amazing individuals in spite of all of that . . . but this is a numbers game here, and the current system (what with such high numbers of people being oppressed by it) just doesn’t allow for any large quantities of people to battle through all that.

If I take a room full of people and cut off their legs, some of them will still make it out of the room before the fire I lit in the corner takes them.  But most of them won’t.  Not without some help.  Especially not when the firemen are slow in coming because they were getting a kitty out of a tree somewhere out in suburbia . . .

It’s just common sense.  Why are “they” so angry?  Why are “they” so quick to get into fights or take offense?  Really?

Give me a full night’s sleep and everything else is great, and I’ll smile and push through it when I’m watching the 8th-straight movie with no protagonists that look like me in it.  I’ll even sort of laugh off the fact that the only person that slightly looks like me is the badguy, again.  Or a drug dealer.  Or an offensive stereotype.  Or whatever.

But add in a couple stressors?  Like the environment around me makes it difficult to sleep?  Or I’m worried about money?  Or I know that if I don‘t keep smiling through it all I’m going to lose my job or at least get called out by my boss?

I’m beating a dead horse here, I know.  But the sad thing is that – in spite of that – folks still won’t get it.   Oppression is all about piling-on.  Piling-on of stressors.  Daily, minute-by-minute new slights and degradations.  All these “little things” that just don’t matter if you live in a world where the “little things” are an occurrence that you can isolate in your memory – as in “that one time.”

Each bit of privilege counts to better enable us to handle it.  Let’s us “grin and bear it.”

But for those folks who never sleep?  It’s going to take a little bit more than pep-talks and tax-free deductions to truly make things equal.

So let’s stop being lazy and treating oppression as moments of isolation and get moving towards some real conversations and solutions.


Because I haven’t been sleeping well, lately, and I don’t have the patience to hold your hand through it.

(*1) See the article HERE.

(*2)  When I think about this kind of stuff, it makes me even that more inspired by the kids I work with (back in the States).  So many reasons not to be their best, and yet – their “not-best”?  So far beyond anything I could ever pull off.



  1. I am so glad you’re back, CVT. I’m sending this to some of my family.

  2. The piling on of oppression is a really accurate descriptor.

  3. On a tangent, I think what’s terrible is that the people who suffer most have internalized the blame for their own oppression (at least, that’s the case in post-colonial countries). I suppose this is too complex to discuss in a comment since it touches on historical, psychological and cultural issues, but it’s not unusual for oppressed people to believe that they somehow deserve their suffering (hence the persistence of colonial mentality, for example).

    And on another note, although oppression and privilege occur on both macro and micro levels, people seem to only focus on the micro aspects of it, almost to a Heisenbergian degree. Honestly, I don’t think any real change is possible on a micro level, but change on a macro level means true revolution — and how many successful ones have there been in history?

  4. CVT,

    You might find this series interesting: http://www.pbs.org/unnaturalcauses/index.htm

  5. I love your thinking-feeling and your writing is very insightful. There is much, I’m sure that we would enjoy to share. Please contact me, I’d like to send you a DVD of a film I directed called Mystic Ball.

  6. this is one of your best essays. It really breaks down the discussion of privilege and oppression in a very common sense way.

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