I woke up this morning and checked into Twitter to discover some very self-congratulatory tweets coming out of the Alberta Legislature. The tweets weren't really about passing good legislation or having a good debate, though. No, they were about the heroism of politicians staying up all night long to debate that legislation and govern our province. And my response? I'm not impressed by that "heroism".
Sleep deprivation is a legitimate issue. In a two second Google search you can find hundreds of studies showing the effects of sleep deprivation on good decision-making. Sleep deprivation has even been used as a form of torture, and while on occasion I fantasize about torturing certain politicians even I wouldn't stoop to depriving them of sleep (my torture fantasies usually involve tying them down and forcing them to listen to themselves rant on about some absurdity again and again and again, just like they do to us). The reality is that sleep deprivation is not only unhealthy but it prevents effective decision making - and what I do not want is a bunch of sleep-deprived politicians making decisions that affect the future of my province.
In what other industry can people brag about sleep deprivation and expect to be applauded? "Hey, I stayed up all night and this morning I'm doing neurosurgery!" and "I got zero sleep and now I am driving a haul truck full of logs down a treacherous highway!" are comments unlikely to elicit admiration. And yet somehow some people seem to think sitting in legislature all night is a badge of honour, some sort of heroic act leading to good governance - and it's not. It is, quite simply, foolishness.
I can tell you a lot of anecdotal stories about my own experiences with sleep deprivation, like when my daughter was much younger and I was feeding her and the family dog breakfast. I only realized how tired I was when I noticed the dog had polished off his food and was licking his lips while the baby was crying over a bowl a dog kibble. That is what lack of sleep does to you. It doesn't make you effective or a hero or a good politician. It just makes you tired and prone to bad decisions and reckless judgement. I know there is concern that there aren't enough days in the session to cover all the legislation - so let's address that issue and make sure session is long enough to do exactly that and not rely on pulling all-nighters that serve no one well.
This morning on Twitter a friend named Greg suggested instituting a workplace safety campaign for politicians. I can think of a few things I would add to that campaign, like not touching a keyboard when they feel like name-calling, and staying away from reporters when they've had a few too many at a party (although those things aren't so much safety related as self preservation). One thing I would make a foundation of that campaign, however, is not staying up all night to debate legislation and think that you are providing effective governance to your constituents and this province.
On the drive to school today I asked my 13-year old if she thought staying up all night would lead people to make good decisions and exercise sound judgement. She looked at me as if I was stupid and said "of course not". I then said, "What do you think they just did at Alberta Legislature last night?" She smacked her forehead and sighed, "Common sense dies again". Indeed. I think next election I am pencilling her name in on my ballot. At least she knows that staying up all night isn't good governance. It's just plain dumb.