3 MIN READ | Health Psychology

Sleep Deprivation Tactics by Domestic Abusers

Natalie Quinn-Walker

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Natalie Quinn-Walker, (2020, March 13). Sleep Deprivation Tactics by Domestic Abusers. Psychreg on Health Psychology. https://www.psychreg.org/sleep-deprivation-domestic-abusers/
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On average, a person will spend a third of their life sleeping. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that, good quality sleep is vital to ensure good well-being, while disturbed sleep can create long-term health issues.

This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, taking place on 14th–18th May 2020, Mental Health Foundation, theme will be focusing on the connection between sleep and mental health. Sleep is vital for the body to recover from our everyday activities. Fundamentally, interrupted sleep can impact upon the mental concentration and capacity of the victims to complete simple tasks. 

Domestic abusers use a variety of tactics to control their partner including sleep deprivation. Significantly, abusers will use this to their advantage and further abuse their victim, as they will have a limited or impeded ability to respond.

According to WHO the victim’s mind will be jumbled, as they begin to suffer memory blanks, increasing the risk of gaslighting.

Additionally, the victim may struggle with remembering events, leading them to believe the aggressive behaviour is their fault. Abusers play upon their victim’s fear, forcing them to apologise to reduce the risk of further assaults. Abusers tend to shift the responsibility of the abuse to their victim, branding them at fault, playing on any insecurities they have.

There are different approaches that abusers may utilise in order to disrupt the sleep of their partner. For instance, abusers may return home after their partner is asleep, prompt their victim to engage in conversation, demanding their undivided attention.

Another approach is that the abuser may attempt to cause noise pollution, by slamming doors to wake their partner. Hence, the subtlety of this approach is clearly apparent.

This is exacerbated by the victim’s mind becoming fragmented, and their vision starting to become distorted as they begin to struggle with the poor-quality of sleep. This form of abuse increases alcohol and drug abuse, as the victim sources alternative methods to fall and remain asleep.  Alcohol may be used to assist with anxiety, however it can prompt dependence, as 30% of people with insomnia use alcohol to aid sleep

More specifically, sleep deprivation abuse takes place when perpetrator is making it impossible for their victim to fall asleep or keeping them awake all night. Sleep deprivation is considered a form of physical abuse; however, some researchers define sleep disruption as forms of severe neglect and aggression, affecting the victim’s ability to process the next day effectively.

Sleep disruption limits the person’s opportunities or ability to achieve, due to over-exhaustion, resulting in the victim becoming isolated.

Abusers use sleep as a form of aggression and control, immobilising and imprisoning their victim within their mind, due to the lack of sleep interrupting the victim’s ability to react to situations, due to over-exhaustion

Sleep deprivation is embedded not only in the relationship, but, as the abuser instils further fear of abuse, the victims sleep remains disturbed. For instance, victims are often in a state of anxiety due to the fear of the unknown.  Of equal significance, is that the prolonged lack of sleep is associated with mental health issues, insomnia and night terrors.

Worryingly, insomnia increases the risk of mortality, due to the inability to concentrate, increasing the risk of accidental deaths, as well as the cardiopulmonary pressures on the body, leading to inflammation and the heart giving out.

The night terrors prevent the victim from falling asleep, instilling further intense fear.  As a direct consequence in the long-term, these affect the victim’s ability to prosecute their abuser, as their decision-making and ability to navigate their concerns are potentially impacted.

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Image credit: Freepik


Natalie Quinn-Walker is a PhD student at the University of Wolverhampton. You can connect with her on Twitter @QUINNWA91648884

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