#SleeplessSenate: A Look Into Sleep Deprivation

18/03/2016 1:33 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
Jaunty Junto via Getty Images
studio shot

The Senate standoff over voting reform changes is winding down in its 39th hour, and we’re starting to worry -- for the well-being of our policymakers and for ourselves.

We’ve watched on as sleep-deprived elective representatives have brought out some zingers -- from the return of Labor callouts on Greens leader Richard Di Natale’s GQ shoot to Labor Senator Doug Cameron’s Monty Python rendition at 2am:

As the early morning wore on, the memes got darker and senators started sneaking in micro naps.

According to Special Minister of State Mathias Cormann, the Senate has moved into ninth place for the longest debate in the Upper House.

The controversial bill is one of few bills to pass the 20-hour debate mark in the history of parliament. The Native Title Amendment Bill in 1997 takes out first place, lasting just over 56 hours.

The question remains: Does a sleep-deprived senate equal a fully-functioning senate?

We’ve all been there. All-nighters are synonymous with both student life and -- clearly -- political life.

But they come with a cost.

Studies show that sleep deprivation can weigh in significantly on our cognitive functioning. According to research at Harvard and Berkeley, the short-term side effect of pulling an all-nighter is euphoria.

Sounds positive? Not necessarily. With sleep deprivation, our ‘mesolimbic’ neural pathway that controls pleasure receives a boost. But this stimulation also leads to addictive or impulsive behaviour.

“The sleep-deprived brain will swing to both extremes, neither of which is optimal for making wise decisions,” said lead study author and psychology professor at UC Berkeley, Matthew Walkley.

This may explain some of the Senators’ lash outs.

To further this, an Australian study found that after being awake for 17 to 19 hours, we can experience levels of cognitive impairment equal to having a blood alcohol level of .05 percent.

If passed today, the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill will allow voters to number at least six boxes above the line on a senate ballot paper, replacing the preference swaps that go on among small parties. It outlines a number of changes to how Australians will vote on election day.

Safe to say this has not been a decision acted upon impulse -- it has kept them up all night.

For more on what this all means read our handy explainer on the voting reform changes.

More On This Topic