Partner abuse: psychological torture through sleep deprivation

Partner abuse: psychological torture through sleep deprivation

It takes parents a lot of attention, hard work and sleep deprivation to take care of a newborn, and raise our future generation. To look after those who are vulnerable, you need to be healthy and strong. This is the reason why many first world countries aid new families through healthcare and pregnancy leave; to make sure our citizens can do the job, safely. But what if your newborn isn’t the one keeping you awake, but your partner?


When I was still with Simon (fictional name), he was a very jealous man. Since we broke-up, he decided open relationships and casual sex are more his thing - but when I was his partner, it was exactly the opposite. At least, when it came to what he was expecting from me.

The longer Simon and I were together, the more possessive he became of me. It started with small remarks: if I put on make-up before meeting a client or co-worker, he would comment on it saying I hadn’t ‘put on make-up for him this weekend’ when we were staying at home. When I had to meet a person who was male, even if they were a longtime friend, Simon would claim ‘they just want to have sex with you’. Simon believed women and men couldn’t be ‘just friends’, because according to him, a man wouldn’t be friends with a woman other than to be able to sleep with her one day. Based on that, Simon claimed I ‘didn’t have any friends’, because the majority of my friends were male.

Simon’s jealousy escalated slowly over time, eventually leading to a night I call ‘the sleep torture’-thing. Around this time, the relationship was falling apart, and Simon was accusing me of cheating on him, while I wasn’t. I barely ever met anyone around this time since Simon had socially isolated me, and most days I stayed inside my house with him, so the accusation was ridiculous. It was especially cruel because I had caught Simon having sexual conversations with other women online himself, one of the many reasons why I wanted to get out of the relationship.

Simon didn’t believe me when I said I wasn’t cheating on me. He ordered me to show him my Skype conversations and messages, which I refused for two reasons: One, I wasn’t cheating on him, and two, I had been asking psychological support and advice to friends on how to deal with Simon and safely get out of the relationship. I didn’t want Simon to find these messages obviously, because I knew what could happen. I was planning my escape, and the last person I wanted to know, was the man I tried to escape from.

Simon bullied me for hours to show him the messages. I kept refusing and eventually I went to bed. I took my laptop with me - where those messages where I asked for help were hidden - and put it under my pillow. Simon soon followed me into the bedroom, again, demanding to read the messages. I refused and said I was going to sleep. After some time Simon left, and it seemed like he had given up. When I was finally falling asleep, the door flew open, and Simon aimed a flashlight at me. I told him to stop, but instead, he walked close to me and shined it right in my face. I tried to hide under the blanket, but he pulled it up, blinding me with the light which he kept 15 cm close to my eyes. I didn’t dare to hit the flashlight or him, because I could feel his aggressive energy. I was close to naked in bed, not protected, and he could easily harm me if he wished. I pleaded with Simon, but he said he would only stop if I would show him the messages. At this point, it was the middle of the night, and I had no idea what to do: my phone wasn’t close to me, Simon was in my way to get to it, so I resorted to ignoring his ridiculous behaviour. I kept my eyes closed, and just tried to sleep, while Simon kept flashing the light in my eyes.

Simon didn’t stop, for hours. Sometimes, he would turn off the light for a few minutes, only then to turn it on again and keep it close to my eyes. Simon’s psychological abuse with the flashlight went on until 6 in the morning. I pleaded, I cried, I shouted, but at no point did I attack him. I didn’t want to give him a reason to hurt me physically. Halfway through the morning, I felt dizzy and confused and angry at the same time. I wanted everything to stop, and I started to wish I would die. I was not able to leave the house, and felt trapped in a nightmare.

I later found out that being forced to stay awake or being woken up every time you fall asleep, is a practise of ‘inhuman and degrading treatment’ that has been used throughout the ages, especially against prisoners and spies in wars. Some people even consider it torture.

The Prime Minister of Israel from 1977 to 1983, Menachem Begin, was a prisoner of the NKVD in Russia, and described his experience of sleep deprivation in his book White nights: the story of a prisoner in Russia:

In the head of the interrogated prisoner, a haze begins to form. His spirit is wearied to death, his legs are unsteady, and he has one sole desire: to sleep... Anyone who has experienced this desire knows that not even hunger and thirst are comparable with it.

Having experienced sleep deprivation as a weapon used on me for 9 hours, I can only imagine what it feels like if it goes on for days, if not weeks. I eventually managed to escape Simon, even though that triggered another psychological war from his part. If I had to pick between being punched for a few minutes and sleep deprivation as a form of torture though, I’d pick an ass-kicking over the humiliation and bullying of my mind.

Severe sleep deprivation can even cause hallucinations (luckily I didn’t experience this), and through it, you can become dangerous to yourself and others. If you suffer from insomnia (the inability to sleep), due to the risk of hallucinations already it’s recommended to see a professional about it who can help you. But who do you see about an abusive partner who refuses to get mental help for their own sociopathic behaviour?

When sleep deprivation is weaponised by a partner to punish you it’s nothing but a cruel and sadistic form of psychological abuse that may lead to physical problems, and all those things are enough reasons to get out of that relationship, while you still can.

If you are going through this type of abuse, you probably can’t ‘sleep on this’ for a night, before getting out of the relationship. In which case, I can only give you one piece of advice:

Get out, now.


Simon is a non-chronological series on domestic violence, sexual abuse, and complicity and enablement of third parties in abuse. All names in this series have been changed because the stories in this series are autobiographical.

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Melody of love

Melody of love

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