Dave Grossman is a psychologist, author, and former Army Ranger best known for writing the book On Killing; which examined the psychological impact of taking human life during war.
Grossman recently appeared on episode 124 of the Cleared Hot podcast hosted by former Navy SEAL Andy Stumpf. The episode covered a variety of topics related to the military, psychology, and Lt. Col. Grossman’s newest area of interest: sleep deprivation.
Sleep deprivation and suicide
“A sleep-deprived soldier can be up to five times more likely to take their life,” Grossman began. “It is not a natural act to commit suicide. You have to have profoundly impaired judgement to take your life. Alcohol and suicide have always been closely related. Alcohol creates bad judgement and causes you to make impaired decisions. Back in Soviet Russia they had one of the highest suicide rates on the planet. They were able to bring the suicide rate down by strictly rationing alcohol.
But the most pervasive form of impaired judgement is sleep deprivation. Here’s parenting 101 for the 21st century: when you send your kid to bed at night take their cell phone away from them. No cell phone in the room, no laptop in the room; they’ve got to go to their room and sleep.
A cop came up to me during one of my presentations. He had a daughter who was an A-student. The daughter said ‘This is embarrassing. You don’t need to take my cell phone away at night.’ So he trusted her. A little while later the girl took her life. He told me that ‘I never understood the hell she was living in until I checked her text messages.’ Night after night of ceaseless, vicious bullying. You can’t just ignore that stuff. We’re not wired that way. He said ‘I knew that my little girl was bullied to death, but what I didn’t know until now was that she was sleep deprived.’ He said ‘I can’t ignore a text message in the middle of the night. How can I expect her to?’,” Grossman concluded.
Grossman then went on to talk about how traffic deaths are going up and that they are one of the leading causes of death among teenagers today.
How sleep deprivation causes traffic fatalities and drug overdoses
“Decade after decade we brought traffic fatalities down. Now they’re going up. There’s a reason why we require truck drivers to monitor their sleep. Alcohol and sleep deprivation are the two biggest predictors of traffic accidents,” the On Killing author said.
“I had three teenage boys. Now I have teenage grandchildren. The number one killer of kids at that point was traffic deaths. It was the one thing that was apparent that you should be concerned about. Now I didn’t have a lot of resources in those days but I made sure that they all had a car with an airbag (and two out of three tested it). But nobody told me that the best gift I could have given those kids was a good night of sleep before they got behind the wheel. It’s so obvious when we hear it,” Grossman said.
“The third other major killer is drug overdose. Just taking drugs is impaired judgement right there. But when we talk about the opiate epidemic, why is there a worldwide demand for opiates? Prescription opiates, at least, have always been there. What’s the new factor? Think like a detective. What’s the new factor?
Sleep deprivation creates chronic pain. I hear all the time that people need a pill. You don’t need a pill, you need to sleep. And knock off the caffeine after lunch. Because it stops you from getting that deep-cycle sleep. The tendons and muscles never fully relax. We’re in the middle of a worldwide epidemic of caffeine addiction and sleep deprivation. The combination is a guarantee for chronic pain,” Grossman continued.
Why Grossman thinks the modern world is so sleep deprived
“Why do you think we’re sleep deprived now versus ten years ago?” Stumpf asked.
“The data is there. It keeps going up. Understand that sleep is a biological blind spot. Our bodies don’t know how to make us get enough sleep because it always happened naturally. Throughout history, every single night without fail it got dark and there was nothing to do. There was only so much talking and so much sex before you went to sleep.
Then we invent the light bulb and the television and the video game. Now suddenly we’re exposed to light 24/7 and our bodies don’t know how to make us fall asleep. Now our body’s pretty good at getting air, food, and water. Our bodies are incompetent at getting the right amount of sleep. It is a biological blind spot. There’s nothing tough or impressive about going without sleep. Any ten-year-old girl at a slumber party can do it. The professional thing, the admirable thing, is to manage your sleep.”
“One area of technology that is unbelievably good is the fitness tracker. The Fitbit Charge 3 is waterproof. You can wear it in the shower or in the pool. You slap on the band, you download an app, and it will track your heart rate. It’s very interesting to track your heart rate throughout the day. It will track your footsteps and calories and it will track your sleep and your cycles of sleep.
It will tell you: You need 7 or 8 hours of sleep per night. You’ve been getting 4 hours of sleep for the past few months you can’t keep going like this, you’re killing yourself. It will tell you the cycles of sleep. It will rock your world.
You’ve got to manage your sleep. Sleep deprivation takes years off our life and it gives us a bad quality of life. When we’re sleep deprived we’re not the parent we want to be, we’re not the spouse we want to be. We’re not the employee or boss we want to be. This worldwide epidemic of sleep deprivation is the new factor,” Grossman continued.
How video games play a role in the sleeplessness epidemic
“A critical dynamic in that becomes social media, text messages, and worst of all the video games. Right now 200 million people are online playing video games. During the coronavirus it’s probably double that. It’s a computer-driven, interactive algorithm with millions of data points being gathered every minute to make it impossible to turn off. Even if there’s a defined ending point you’ve got to jump right back in,” Dave Grossman said about video games.
“Remember Tetris? Think about Tetris on crack. Every generation of games becomes more immersive. More addictive. Adults are playing these games until they die. They wet themselves because they can’t leave the game. Research tells us that in 15% of all divorces video games are the cause. Google ‘video games and divorce’ and it’ll pop right up. You’ve got to decide what is more important: Your family, your kids, your job? Or the video game?
There’s this dynamic of sleep deprivation and games and what they’re doing to us. I tell people that there’s nothing wrong with adults playing any kind of game. But you’ve got to recognize that it’s going to put you in a flow state. What they strive to seek is called a flow state. You become incapable of keeping track of time. Suddenly it’s 3 o’clock in the morning and you have no idea where the last six hours went and your spouse is sincerely ticked off. We’ve all been there.
You know you’re gonna lose track of time so block out an hour every night. Escape and play the game. When the timer goes off save the game and move on. People say ‘I play a massively multiplayer orgasmic video game you can’t do anything in an hour every night’. I say OK, decide what is important. Is your vow of marriage important? Is your oath of enlistment important? Is your responsibility to your family important? Is your health important? Is your job important? Or is the game important? Decide now.
If that game is what’s truly important that’s cool. Quit your job right now. Move into your parent’s basement. File for unemployment and buy a bag of Cheetos. Play video games all night long. Millions of people are doing that. But if you want to uphold your vow of marriage and your responsibility to your nation and your comrades, your oath of enlistment, your oath as a peace officer, your responsibility as a citizen then you have to get those games under control.
If you’re stuck in the house dead drunk at 3AM every night then you know you have a problem. If you stagger in to work sleep deprived because you were playing games all night then you know you have a problem. Nobody has ever told you that. It is truly a social blind spot. Once we get that level of awareness we can start to get that under control but we’ve been blindsided by it,” Grossman continued.
“A lot of what you’re saying goes back to my feeling that a herd of sheep is the most dangerous thing,” Stumpf said. “Because you know people are killing themselves for pizza too. And alcohol, pills, any other leisure activity that has no worth.”
“Understand though that if somebody kills themselves by being overweight or via pills or anything else, that’s their life,” Grossman replied. “That’s their choice. But if they destroy themselves by killing other people then society treats it as fundamentally different.”
“Regarding the girl who killed herself, I have no doubt that the text messages and being sleep deprived were corollary to that. The electronic environment that my kids live in is one that I struggle to understand the power of sometimes because I didn’t come up inside of it. The biggest thing I’ve come back to many times is that many have slipped to a place where the electronic world is consequence-free,” Stumpf said.
“I describe their generation as the Avatar generation,” he went on. ” My sons spend time building these online avatars. I’ll listen to them when they have the headsets on and they don’t know I’m in the room and they behave in a manner sometimes with their vocabulary where I’m not exactly impressed. I’ve had issues with one of my sons who made comments on a text thread that ended up with me in the principal’s office. I had to talk with my kids and make sure they understand that anything you do online you should assume it’s seen by everybody and that it lasts forever. At some point in time you could be applying for a job and someone slides a piece of paper across and says ‘was this you?’ They don’t have any understanding of that because it’s not real to them,” Stumpf continued.
“You add sleep deprivation to that and it is the new challenge of our age. It’s the new factor worldwide. The guns didn’t change. We changed and our children changed. That’s the question they don’t want us asking,” Grossman concluded.
Grossmans’s sleep hacks
Lt. Col. Grossman then went on to list his sleep hacks. According to the celebrated author, these are tips and tricks that you can implement immediately to get a better night of sleep tonight.
Develop an internal locus of control
“Let me cover some sleep hacks that you can do today. One of the foundations of resiliency is what we call an internal locus of control. Identify the things you can’t control and let go of them. Everything in the past is done. You gotta let go of it or it’ll eat you alive. One of the reasons why faith is important to resiliency is that you have a higher power to turn things over to. At the global level, the national level? There’s nothing you can do about it, so you gotta let go of it.
The only thing you can control is yourself right now. If you give way to bitterness, cynicism, or complacency then that’s the one thing you can control. Identify the things you can do and do them,” Grossman said.
Don’t touch the snooze button
“Let me give you some hacks you can use tonight. Number one: Don’t touch that snooze alarm. Do a little research on the snooze alarm. You’re trying to force your body to learn how to fall into deep cycles of sleep in 10 minutes and it can’t do it. You’re doing physical and psychological harm to your body every time you hit that snooze alarm.
The thing to realize is that the minimum now is 30 minutes. That’s not a good nap but that’s the minimum nap. Now you hit that snooze button and you hit it again and a third time and that’s 30 minutes of the day gone. It adds no value as far as sleep goes and adds no value as far as your life goes. The snooze button is an evil little button that makes you relive the worst part of every day over and over again.
I will give you a trick that will put 30 minutes sleep back in every day. Set your alarm half an hour later and get out of bed. Set your cell phone for 10 alarms: 6 o’clock, 6 o’clock, 6 o’clock. And by the time you turn them all off you’ll be up.
Here’s the core question that everybody has to ask themselves: Do I control my body or does my body control me? Is the first act of every day to surrender to my body or is the first act of every day self-discipline, rolling out of bed and taking charge?” Grossman said about his second sleep hack.
The dark is your friend
“The dark is our friend. We truly need to live and sleep in as dark of a room as possible. I’m a huge science geek, my favorite website is sciencedaily.com. A major study in a sleep lab was in a totally dark room but the bathroom light is on with the door shut. The light coming out of the crack in the bathroom door is too much light. It stops your body from producing the melatonin that you need.
Absolutely wear a sleep mask (Sleepline editor’s note: we recommend the Manta Sleep Mask). The combination of a dark room and a sleep mask is dynamite. I did a piece on my Facebook page about my two favorite sleep masks and why they work for me. When you get that sleep without changing another bit of your life, in a truly dark room with that sleep mask you are going to rock your world and get quality sleep.
Teach your children to sleep in the dark. Babies are sloshing with melatonin, they can sleep anywhere. By the time we become teenagers the body produces much less melatonin. As we get older and older it produces less and less. Teenagers are dying from sleep deprivation. Teaching your kids to sleep in a totally dark room is one of the best gifts we can give them,” the Lieutenant Colonel said.
Alcohol is not your friend
“Alcohol is not our friend. Nothing wrong with a nightcap. One drink on the way to bed appears to be OK. But wear the Fitbit, down three beers and go to bed. See what it does to your sleep. You’ll fall quickly into a shallow sleep, you’ll wake up in a couple of hours and you can’t get back to sleep. Nothing wrong with a nightcap but anything more than one drink per night appears to be counterproductive. Don’t use alcohol to put yourself to sleep,” Grossman said.
Cut off caffeine after lunch
“Caffeine is one of the most powerful tools we have to give us alertness when we need it. It temporarily overrides sleep deprivation if you’re not abusing the body with mega doses on a daily basis. We’re in the middle of an epidemic of caffeine abuse and addiction. Cut off caffeine for one day. If you get withdrawal symptoms – and that’s exactly what they are – then you’re abusing the drug. Taper off and taper off then when you need it it’ll be there for you.
What we tell people is cut off caffeine shortly after lunch. What happens is that the half-life of caffeine in our body is five hours. That means that the caffeine you took at 5pm is still half-strength when you go to bed at 10pm. After lunch switch to decaf and have all you want. The key thing here is the source of caffeine. Sodas are sugary poison and carcinogens. The diet sodas may be worse.
Energy drinks are condensed poison. We’ve been at war for almost 20 years. For the first 15 years we passed out energy drinks like they were water. About three years ago, a couple major Department of Defense studies on energy drinks came to the exact same conclusion. Across the armed serves there is a ban on giving out energy drinks. Back in the 70’s we had cigarettes in our C-rations. They said no they’re bad for you. You can buy ’em but we’re not giving them to you.
These mega doses of caffeine are terribly harmful for you. What they found out was, in an academic environment the ones taking the most energy drinks were the ones with the worst grades. In a tactical environment, the ones taking the most energy drinks were the most likely to nod off on the job.
All there is in an energy drink is a mega dose of caffeine and some stuff that will help you metabolize it quickly. It’ll give you a one-hour burst of energy. The second one feels good for 10 minutes then you crash. The third one for five minutes then you crash. All that you’re doing is building up an addiction and tolerance to the drug. Then when you need it it’s not there for you,” Grossman stated about caffeine.
You can learn more about Lt. Col Dave Grossman on his personal website.