By: Manying Lo (Bugle Team)
Edited by: Robert Vilkelis (Bugle Team)
The harmful effects of sleep deprivation (SD) have been well documented. In terms of cognition, SD can result in slowed response and a worse performance in cognitive tasks (Kerkhof, G & Van Dongen, 2010). However, the effects of sleep deprivation are actually less straightforward than originally believed, not all cognitive functions are affected to the same degree (Kerkhof, G & Van Dongen, 2010). For example, more complex tasks are less affected by SD, possible because they’re more engaging for participants who will put more effort into the task but despite this, decision making can still be affected (Harrison & Horne, 2000). Sleep-deprived individuals also report higher rates of physical complaints, anxiety, depression, and paranoia (Kathe-Greene, Killgore, Kamimori, Balkin, & Killgore, 2007).
In The Machinist, Trevor Reznik (Christian Bale) has not slept for a year. Even though the longest record of not sleeping is 11 days (Johnson, Slye, & Dement, 9165), what effects would such long periods of wakefulness have? In line with Kathe-Green et al.’s (1965) study, Trevor begins to show paranoid behaviour, he believes that his co-workers are plotting to hurt him after he gets involved in an accident with a previous co-worker who lost his arm,
Trevor: “…There was an accident at the shop…and now the guys at work are against me; they want me out, and I don’t blame them, but it’s the way they’re going about it – their eyes and their little games…”
Stevie: “Maybe you’re taking this, uh, accident thing a bit too hard. If they wanted you out, they would just fire you.”
Trevor: “I’m not worried about being fired.”
Stevie: “Then what are you worried about?”
Trevor: (pause) “I don’t know yet.”
Alternatively, the paranoia may not be due to the SD and indicative of another mental health problem such as schizophrenia (Drake et al., 2004). Towards the end of the film, we find that Trevor has been having hallucinations. From the dark, viscous blood that oozes out of his fridge to the game of hangman on the post-it notes on the same fridge, and finally Ivan- the mysterious, calm and ever-grinning co-worker who we ultimately find out is just a figment of Trevor’s imagination. Visual hallucinations can be found in sleep-disturbed individuals or in individuals suffering with schizophrenia (Manford & Andermann, 1998). In schizophrenia, a “delusional or hyper-religious character is often present”, this sounds like Ivan, a character manifested by Trevor’s guilt for having killed a family in a hit-and-run. Vivid hallucinations have also been reported by individuals who have Charles Bonnet’s Syndrome (CBS), although this predominantly occurs in older cohorts These individuals report seeing “people, animals, plants, a large variety of inanimate objects, and sometimes complete scenes” (Teunisse et al., 1996).
It’s difficult to say for sure whether the behaviours exhibited by Trevor are due to his prolonged wakefulness or possible, schizophrenia. It’s possible that Trevor’s sleep deprivation and lifestyle has adversely affected his mental health in such a way that has made Trevor vulnerable to other disorders that may have contributed to Trevor’s experiences. Either way, if someone did manage to stay awake for a year, it seems likely that they wouldn’t be as functional as Trevor is…
Drake, R. J., Pickles, A., Bentall, R. P., Kinderman, P., Haddock, G., Tarrier, N., & Lewis, S. W. (2004). The evolution of insight, paranoia and depression during early schizophrenia. Psychological medicine, 34(02), 285-292.
Harrison, Y., & Horne, J. A. (2000). The impact of sleep deprivation on decision making: a review. Journal of experimental psychology: Applied, 6(3), 236.
JOHNSON, L. C., SLYE, E. S., & DEMENT, W. (1965). Electroencephalographic and autonomic activity during and after prolonged sleep deprivation. Psychosomatic Medicine, 27(5), 415-423.
Kahn-Greene, E. T., Killgore, D. B., Kamimori, G. H., Balkin, T. J., & Killgore, W. D. (2007). The effects of sleep deprivation on symptoms of psychopathology in healthy adults. Sleep medicine, 8(3), 215-221.
Kerkhof, G. A., & Van Dongen, H. P. A. (2010). Effects of sleep deprivation on cognition. Human Sleep and Cognition: Basic Research, 185, 105.
Manford, M., & Andermann, F. (1998). Complex visual hallucinations. Clinical and neurobiological insights. Brain, 121(10), 1819-1840.
Teunisse, R. J., Zitman, F. G., Cruysberg, J. R. M., Hoefnagels, W. H. L., & Verbeek, A. L. M. (1996). Visual hallucinations in psychologically normal people: Charles Bonnet’s syndrome. The Lancet, 347(9004), 794-797.