The presidential campaign season is in full swing. There are competitive primary battles for convention delegates in both major political parties. This year, the campaign rhetoric seems particularly venomous. Belittling name calling and attacks on candidates' wives have been featured in the national news. Are the words uttered by the candidates a deliberate part of their "negative" campaign strategies or do they merely reflect poor judgment. If the latter, could insufficient sleep and sleepiness be a contributing factor? Is this just a small example of how disrupted sleep could potentially alter history?
Sleep deprivation can result in sleepiness, irritability, mood swings, impaired judgment and increased risk taking. During the campaign, candidates' schedules are packed with appearances, speeches and travel from state to state crossing time zones in the process. It is highly probable that all candidates suffer from some degree of sleep deficiency and jet lag. As previously speculated, is some of the behavior exhibited by the presidential candidates attributable to insufficient sleep and/or jet lag? It would not be the first time that politics, sleep and history may have been intertwined.
Throughout the course of modern history, there have been several events in which sleep disturbances may have had an important impact. There has been speculation that Napoleon suffered from obstructive sleep apnea. If true, could the sleepiness inherent in this condition have affected his judgment as an army general and contributed to his defeat at Waterloo? It has been documented that then Secretary of State John Foster Dulles was significantly jet lagged during his failed negotiations with the Egyptians over the building of the Aswan Dam on the Nile River. The dam was ultimately built by the Russians. A more recent Secretary of State and now presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton traveled many more miles and time zones than Mr. Dulles. During her tenure, a number of important international events transpired. Did sleep deprivation and jet lag influence negatively impact any of Mrs. Clinton's decisions? Former President Clinton has admitted that most of the mistakes he made as president occurred when he was too tired. Could this have contributed to his impeachment or other political missteps during his presidency? Furthermore, he has suggested that some of the acrimony in the United States Congress today is a result of sleep deprivation among its members. In support of his theory, a number of political figures have been spotted "sleeping on the job."
Obviously, we will never know if history would have changed if some of our political leaders experienced more or better sleep. However, the negative consequences of inadequate and poor quality sleep are now clearly established. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the Sleep Research Society and the National Sleep Foundation have all recommended based on existing scientific evidence that adults get at least 7 hours of sleep per night. If this is the standard for all Americans, is it too much to ask our political leaders to do the same? Perhaps, if they did, the political campaigns would contain less rancor and more relevant political dialog. More importantly, governance of our country might improve.