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Can Sleep Deprivation Explain Donald Trump’s Behavior?

February 9, 2017

trump sleepDonald Trump wears his chronic sleep deprivation as a badge of honour. The President has routinely relished in boasting he is above a proper night’s sleep.

In the most recent instance, the mogul-turned-politico declared he only gets around four or five hours of sleep a night. Speaking to Fox News interviewer Bill O’Reilly on Tuesday night, Mr Trump said he works “long hours, right up till 12 o’clock, 1 o’clock in the morning” and then generally wakes up at 5 am.

But while President Trump might see this as something to be proud of, Dr Neil Stanley, a sleep expert who has been involved in sleep research for 34 years, has other ideas.

On the contrary, Dr Stanley thinks Mr Trump’s lack of sleep could have some very serious potential consequences for America and the wider world. Unsurprisingly, he is wary of the idea of President Trump making snap presidential decisions when he has only had a few snatched hours sleep here and there.

It goes without saying that getting a handful of hours sleep per night has profound consequences on people. To put it simply, sleep deprivation has a harmful impact on functions associated with the frontal lobe of the brain, such as alertness, attention, decision-making and cognitive processes.

“We know from research in business leadership that if you are sleep deprived, your inability to focus, concentrate, make decisions, and a lack of empathy can make it more likely you make rash decisions not based on all the information and express them in an undiplomatic way,” Dr Stanley explains.

He says being underslept is the equivalent to being over the drink driving limit. According to Dr Stanley, if you have been awake for around 16 hours, it can impair your ability more than being over the drink driving limit. While being awake for 24 hours is the equivalent of being twice over the limit.

“If you are over the drink driving limit, you probably should not be taking important decisions,” he tells The Independent. “If he is sleep deprived, he is running the country while too impaired to drive a motor vehicle.”

Dr Stanley thinks some of Mr Trump’s recent blunders are indicative of someone who is sleep-deprived – especially those regarding international diplomacy. The two examples he cites are Mr Trump’s alleged decision to put the phone down on Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his phone call with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen in December which broke nearly four decades of US policy and upset China.

“He does seem to be an impetuous man,” he says. “He does seem to say what he thinks whereas perhaps someone who was well rested would temper his language or his way of dealing with things.”

Dr Stanley explains that whether you cut yourself chopping a cucumber or press the nuclear codes, they are both examples of your reaction to a situation being exacerbated by a lack of sleep.

“It would be better if the leader of the free world was rested and functioning at his best,” he suggests. “You would know that whatever he was doing, he was doing advisably, even if you don’t agree with it, at least you know he’s not making mistakes. We would all rest easily.”

Nevertheless, Dr Stanley does say there is a good chance Mr Trump could simply have a good sleeper gene – a theory which has been frequently floated. After all, the former reality TV star has been bragging about how little sleep he needs for the last couple of decades.

In his 2004 book Think Like a Billionaire, Mr Trump wrote: “Don’t sleep any more than you have to, I usually sleep about four hours per night.” In a similar vein, at a campaign event in Springfield, Illinois in November 2015, he said: “You know, I’m not a big sleeper. I like three hours, four hours, I toss, I turn, I beep-de-beep, I want to find out what’s going on.”

The amount of sleep you need is genetic and while most people need between seven and nine hours, there is the chance Mr Trump is one of the two per cent of the population who does not need much. Then again, experts have suggested that only five out of 100 people who believe they are short sleepers actually are.

“It could be that Trump just genuinely is one of those people who can function at a high level on not enough speech,” explains Dr Stanley. “He may just be like that. This might be the best of Donald Trump. In a way, you want to imagine that he is sleep deprived because you could fix that and things would be better.”

Dr Stanley explains that sleep deficit also has a fundamental impact on emotions. “Research on couples has shown you’re more liable to have an argument and you’re less likely to make up afterwards. You show less empathy,” he says.

“If you lack empathy, diplomacy and are unable to make decisions and you are in a couple, you going to have more fights but if you are the president of the united states, you are a very powerful individual. There are plenty of flash points in the world by somebody who isn’t acting as empathetically or diplomatically as you hoped.”

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