Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, the President’s nominee for Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs, withdrew yesterday, amid allegations of creating a toxic workplace, drinking, and over-prescribing medication, including sleeping pills. But this wasn’t the first time the Rear Admiral’s made news about his less than healthy ideas about sleep. Back in January, I wrote the following about his take on the President’s sleep.
Much of the coverage of the President’s physical has focused on his cognitive abilities. “I’ve found no reason whatsoever to think the president has any issues whatsoever with his thought processes,” said White House physician Dr. Ronny L. Jackson. But in fact the press conference left me questioning Dr. Jackson’s thought processes more than the President’s.
In giving the overview on the President’s bill of health, Dr. Jackson noted that Trump gets only 4 or 5 hours of sleep per night. “He doesn’t sleep much,” Dr. Jackson said. “He’s probably been that way his whole life. That’s probably been one of the reasons he’s been successful.” He also noted that Trump “has a unique ability to just get up in the morning and just reset.”
I practically fell out of my chair – and was lucky I wasn’t drinking anything or I would have done my first classic spit-take. To broadcast from the White House the idea that sleep deprivation makes a person successful and is anything other than a health disaster is medical malpractice. It would be like putting climate change deniers in charge of the EPA (oh wait, Trump has already done that).
This sleep denialism is not only profoundly at odds with the overwhelming consensus of a decade’s worth of sleep science, it’s also dangerous — touting something as hazardous as sleep deprivation as a positive and something people should aspire to.
Here are just a few health hazards sleep deprivation has been associated with, according to the latest scientific fiindings:
• Lowered immune system function.
The list goes on and on. As Matthew Walker, a neuroscientist and director of the Center for Human Science at the University of California, Berkeley put it, “No aspect of our biology is left unscathed by sleep deprivation. It sinks down into every possible nook and cranny.”
Yes there are some people who don’t need much sleep. In 2009 Ying-Hui Fu, a geneticist and professor at the University of California, San Francisco, identified a genetic mutation that allows people to get by on less than 6 hours of sleep. The problem is that it’s exceedingly unlikely Trump has the mutation. Mehdi Tafti, of the Center for Integrative Genomics at the University of Lausanne, estimates that less that 1 percent of the population does.
What’s much more likely (99+ percent likely) is that Trump’s notorious lack of sleep is having all kinds of serious consequences – for him and, thus, for the world. We also know that long-time sleep deprivation is even worse. And Trump has been bragging about it as far back as 1990, when he told Playboy that he didn’t sleep “more than four hours a night.”
And he continued to advertise his poor sleep habits in the campaign. “I have a great temperament for success,” he said in a 2015 rally. “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.”
And we now know enough from the science to know what goes on without sleep (even though the good doctor may not). The mental effects are as profound as the physical consequences. For instance, one study found that sleep deprivation can actually create false memories. In another, among the effects of sleep deprivation were “decreased global emotional intelligence,” “reduced empathy toward others and quality of interpersonal relationships,” “reduced impulse control and difficulty with delay of gratification,” and “greater reliance on formal superstitions and magical thinking.” Sound familiar? That’s a pretty fair description of Trump’s first year in office.
Given Dr. Jackson’s views on sleep, his patient might not be the only one relying on superstitions and magical thinking.