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The Importance of Sleep When Facing Serious Criminal Charges

Written by guest contributors, Jolyn Armstrong and Jim Armstrong, The FOTA Project

Many studies conducted over many years have clearly shown both short and long-term effects of sleep deprivation on our physical and mental health.  Perhaps one of the biggest causes of sleep-deprivation for our clients and their families is the stress and fatigue associated with going through a criminal case.  It has, unfortunately, become a joke in the US that we’re all at least a bit sleep-deprived, leading to forgetfulness, low productivity, increased stress, etc.  But things get a bit more serious when we look at the data, especially when we find that sleep deprivation can be directly and indirectly tied to increased mortality rates. Nobody enjoys these kinds of disastrous consequences, even less so attorneys who are trying to help clients navigate an already-stressful situation.

A recent report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that every year there are 1,550 fatalities and 71,000 injuries due to drowsy drivingColumbia University Department of Neurology published an article outlining several negative outcomes of sleep deprivation including drowsiness, inability to concentrate, impaired memory, reduced physical strength, and diminished ability to fight off infections.  The study also showed that sleep deprivation may cause additional complications over time, including increased risk for depression and mental illness, and increased risk of heart disease.

In another study, known as the “Whitehall II Study,” British researchers looked at how sleep patterns affected the mortality of more than 10,000 British civil servants over two decades.  Mortality rates were increased dramatically among the sleep-deprived group.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information compiled a large number of studies on the subject, here are just some of their findings regarding the health effects of sleep deprivation:

  • An increased risk of cardiovascular disease such as carotid artery intima-media thickness and coronary artery calcification or mortality for short sleep duration in men and/or women as well as an increased likelihood of
  • Significant link between short sleep and
  • Nearly all studies to date have reported associations between habitual/imposed short sleep and risk of diabetes. Furthermore, glycemic control appears to be worse in people with diabetes who report poorer subjective sleep quality and short sleep duration (i.e. for those who already had diabetes, poor sleep makes diabetes worse).
  • Perhaps the most disturbing information from this compilation of studies is that stress affects our sleep and, conversely, sleep deprivation is itself a stressor.  It’s the worst kind of viscous cycle. This happens because sleep deprivation or restriction can increase the activity of the neuroendocrine stress systems.  Chronic activation of these systems may lead to disease, neuronal damage, and earlier aging.

It is important to note that the data above and all other studies I found all address issues caused by lack of sleep during normal, every-day stress levels.  Facing serious criminal charges is like turning up the dial on stress levels, amplifying the negative effects.  Lack of sleep may prevent you from making clear-headed decisions that could have long-term effects, may cause you to lose your temper at a time when cool-headedness needs to prevail, and may cause health problems that add to the number of days you were already going to miss work for hearings and attorney appointments.  Do you see the snowball effect happening here?

Please, during this stressful time, take care of your mental and physical health!  This starts with making sure you’re getting adequate sleep.  If you would like tips on protecting your sleep while facing serious criminal charges, or supporting a family member through their charges, you can find them here.

Jolyn and Jim are the husband-and-wife co-founders of The FOTA Project (Families Of The Accused).  When a loved one of Jolyn and Jim’s was arrested, they discovered that there are few support resources for the traumatized families of people accused of a crime.  That’s why they launched The FOTA Project.  FOTA’s mission is to provide emotional counseling, support and guidance for the families of people who have been accused of a crime or who are incarcerated.  For more information visit theFOTAproject.org.

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