The 6/24 rule: A review and proposal for an international standard of a minimum of six hours of continuous sleep in detention settings

  • Pau Pérez-Sales
Keywords: sleep deprivation, 6/24 x 3 rule


Sleep deprivation is one of the most prevalent and widely used methods of psychological torture. Its effects on the body are without direct physical aggression and include significant somatic and psychological impacts and suffering. It is used in multiple coercive environments as a way, among other purposes, of degradation, debilitation, punishment or before and during the interrogation of detainees. In this specific context, it produces cognitive, emotional and physical exhaustion, with the aim of obtaining submission or compliance, and ultimately information or confession (Pérez-Sales, 2017; Reynolds & Banks, 2010; Sveaass, 2008).

There is no universally accepted legal definition of what should be considered sleep deprivation in the context of torture.  There are however converging positions from the legal and jurisprudential, and especially medical and psychiatric fields that allow for establishing sufficiently clear recommendations for the international community to take a reasoned stance. Within the framework of torture as defined in the United Nations Convention (UNCAT), intentionally forcing a person to have less than 6 hours of continuous, restful sleep must be considered a form of degrading treatment that could amount to cruel and inhuman treatment. We also suggest that when this daily sleep deprivation is intentionally prolonged in a sustained manner for three days or more, it should be considered as a form of torture in itself, irrespective of other coexisting or cumulative elements that may aggravate the condition.



Åkerstedt, T., Ghilotti, F., Grotta, A., Bellavia, A., Lagerros, Y. T., & Bellocco, R. (2017). Sleep duration, mortality and the influence of age. European Journal of Epidemiology, 32(10), 881–891.

Baglioni, C., Nanovska, S., Regen, W., Spiegelhalder, K., Feige, B., Nissen, C., … Riemann, D. (2016). Sleep and mental disorders: A meta-analysis of polysomnographic research. Psychological Bulletin, 142(9), 969–990.

Baldwin, J. (1993). OF Establishing Truth or Proof ? The British Journal of Criminology, 33(June 1990), 66–72.

Barnes, C. M., Gunia, B. C., & Wagner, D. T. (2015). Sleep and moral awareness. Journal of Sleep Research, 24(2), 181–188.

Biderman, A., & Zimmer, H. (1961). The Manipulation of Human Behaviour. New York: John Wiley and Sons.

Blagrove, M. (1996). Effects of Length of Sleep Deprivation on Interrogative Suggestibility. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 2(1), 48–59.

Blagrove, M., & Akehurst, L. (2000). Effects of sleep loss on confidence–accuracy relationships for reasoning and eyewitness memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 6(1), 59–73.

Boland, E. M., Rao, H., Dinges, D. F., Smith, R. V., Goel, N., Detre, J. A., … Gehrman, P. R. (2017). Meta-Analysis of the Antidepressant Effects of Acute Sleep Deprivation. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 78(8), e1020–e1034.

Bolgiano, D. (2010). Military interrogation of terror suspects. Military Review, (December), 1–10.

Cappuccio, F. P., D’Elia, L., Strazzullo, P., & Miller, M. A. (2010). Sleep duration and all-cause mortality: A systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. Sleep, 33(5), 585–592.

Chen, L., Qi, X., & Zheng, J. (2018). Altered regional cortical brain activity in healthy subjects after sleep deprivation: A functional magnetic resonance imaging study. Frontiers in Neurology, 9(AUG), 1–7.

Dai, X.-J., Rao, H., & Spiegelhalder, K. (2019). Neuroimaging Findings in Sleep Disorders and Circadian Disruption. Frontiers in Neurology and Frontiers in Psychiatry, 10(May).

Davis, D., & Leo, R. A. (2012). Interrogation-related regulatory decline: Ego depletion, failures of self-regulation, and the decision to confess. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 18(4), 673–704.

Drizin, S., & Leo, R. (2004). The problem of false confessions in the post- DNA world. North Carolina Law Review, 82, 891–1007.

Fairholme, C. P., & Manber, R. (2015). Sleep, Emotions, and Emotion Regulation: An Overview. In Sleep and Affect: Assessment, Theory, and Clinical Implications.

Feld, B. C. (2013). Real interrogation: What actually happens when cops question kids. Law and Society Review, 47(1), 1–35.

Feng, P., Becker, B., Zheng, Y., & Feng, T. (2018). Sleep deprivation affects fear memory consolidation: Bi-stable amygdala connectivity with insula and ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 13(2), 145–155.

Frenda, S. J., Patihis, L., Loftus, E. F., Lewis, H. C., & Fenn, K. M. (2014). Sleep Deprivation and False Memories. Psychological Science, 25(9), 1674–1681.

Goldstein-Piekarski, A. N., Greer, S. M., Saletin, J. M., & Walker, M. P. (2015). Sleep deprivation impairs the human central and peripheral nervous system discrimination of social threat. Journal of Neuroscience, 35(28), 10135–10145.

Greenberg, I. (2015). From surveillance to torture: The evolution of US interrogation practices during the War on Terror. Security Journal, 28(2), 165–183.

Gudjonsson, G. H. (2003). The psychology of interrogations and confessions. A handbook. London: Wiley.

Gudjonsson, G. H., Sigurdsson, J. F., Sigfusdottir, I. D., Asgeirsdottir, B. B., González, R. A., & Young, S. (2016). A national epidemiological study investigating risk factors for police interrogation and false confession among juveniles and young persons. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 51(3), 359–367.

Havekes, R., & Abel, T. (2017). The tired hippocampus: the molecular impact of sleep deprivation on hippocampal function. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 44(March), 13–19.

Hennecke, E., Elmenhorst, D., Mendolia, F., Putzke, M., Bauer, A., Aeschbach, D., & Elmenhorst, E. M. (2019). Reestablishment of individual sleep structure during a single 14-h recovery sleep episode after 58 h of wakefulness. Journal of Sleep Research, 28(3).

Hertenstein, E., Feige, B., Gmeiner, T., Kienzler, C., Spiegelhalder, K., Johann, A., … Baglioni, C. (2019). Insomnia as a predictor of mental disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 43, 96–105.

Hirshkowitz, M., Whiton, K., Albert, S. M., Alessi, C., Bruni, O., DonCarlos, L., … Adams Hillard, P. J. (2015). National Sleep Foundation’s sleep time duration recommendations: methodology and results summary. Sleep Health, 1(1), 40–43.

Horne, J. A., & Pettitt, A. N. (1985). High incentive effects on vigilance performance during 72 hours of total sleep deprivation. Acta Psychologica, 58(2), 123–139.

Horne, J. a, & Harrison, Y. (2000). The impact of sleep deprivation on decision making: a review. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Applied, 6(3), 236–249.

Hoyos, C., Glozier, N., & Marshall, N. S. (2015). Recent Evidence on Worldwide Trends on Sleep Duration. Current Sleep Medicine Reports, 1(4), 195–204.

Intelligence Science Board. (2009). Intelligence interviewing. Teaching papers and case studies. Washington DC: National Defense Intelligence College Press.

Kassin, S. M., Leo, R. A., Meissner, C. a, Richman, K. D., Colwell, L. H., Leach, A.-M., … Fon, D. La. (2007). Police Interviewing and Interrogation: A Self-Report Survey of Police Practices and Beliefs. Law and Human Behavior, 31(4), 381–400.

Killgore, W. D. S. (2010). Effects of sleep deprivation on cognition. In Progress in Brain Research (Vol. 185).

Killgore, W. D. S., Balkin, T. J., Yarnell, A. M., & Capaldi, V. F. (2017). Sleep deprivation impairs recognition of specific emotions. Neurobiology of Sleep and Circadian Rhythms, 3(February), 10–16.

Killgore, W. D. S., Killgore, D. B., Day, L. M., Li, C., Kamimori, G. H., & Balkin, T. J. (2007). The effects of 53 hours of sleep deprivation on moral judgment. Sleep, 30(3), 345–352.

Kong, D., Liu, R., Song, L., Zheng, J., Zhang, J., & Chen, W. (2018). Altered long- and short-range functional connectivity density in healthy subjects after sleep deprivations. Frontiers in Neurology, 9(JUL), 1–11.

Krizan, Z., & Herlache, A. D. (2016). Sleep Disruption and Aggression: Implications for Violence and Its Prevention. Psychology of Violence, 6(4), 542–552.

Lautenbacher, S., Kundermann, B., & Krieg, J. C. (2006). Sleep deprivation and pain perception. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 10(5), 357–369.

Lim, J., & Dinges, D. F. (2010). A meta-analysis of the impact of short-term sleep deprivation on cognitive variables. Psychological Bulletin, 136(3), 375–389.

Liu, X., Peng, X., Peng, P., Li, L., Lei, X., & Yu, J. (2019). The age differences of sleep disruption on mood states and memory performance. Aging and Mental Health, 0(0), 1–8.

Madon, S., Yang, Y., Smalarz, L., Guyll, M., & Scherr, K. C. (2013). How factors present during the immediate interrogation situation produce short-sighted confession decisions. Law and Human Behavior, 37(1), 60–74.

McKenna, B. S., Dickinson, D. L., & Orff, H. J. (2007). The effects of one night of sleep deprivation on known-risk and ambiguous-risk decisions. J Sleep Research, 16, 245–252.

Mendez, J. E. (2011). Interim report of SR on torture (solitary confinement) A /66/268. 44570(August).

Mikulincer, M., Babkoff, H., Caspy, T., & Sing, H. (1989). The effects of 72 hours of sleep loss on psychological variables. British Journal of Psychology, 80(2), 145–162.

Morgan, R., & Evans, M. (2001). CPT Standards regarding Prisoners. Geneva: Association for The Prevention of Torture.

Ohayon, M. M., Carskadon, M. A., Guilleminault, C., & Vitiello, M. V. (2004). Meta-analysis of quantitative sleep parameters from childhood to old age in healthy individuals: developing normative sleep values across the human lifespan. Sleep, 27(7), 1255–1273. Retrieved from

Pereira, T., Martins, S., & Fernandes, L. (2017). Sleep duration and suicidal behavior: A systematic review. European Psychiatry, 41, S854.

Pérez-Sales, P. (2017). Psychological torture: Definition, evaluation and measurement. In Psychological Torture: Definition, Evaluation and Measurement.

Reynolds, A. C., & Banks, S. (2010). Total sleep deprivation, chronic sleep restriction and sleep disruption. In Progress in Brain Research (Vol. 185).

Schnyer, D. M., Zeithamova, D., & Williams, V. (2009). Decision-making under conditions of sleep deprivation: Cognitive and neural consequences. Military Psychology, 21(SUPPL. 1).

Schrimpf, M., Liegl, G., Boeckle, M., Leitner, A., Geisler, P., & Pieh, C. (2015). The effect of sleep deprivation on pain perception in healthy subjects: A meta-analysis. Sleep Medicine, 16(11), 1313–1320.

Simonelli, G., Marshall, N. S., Grillakis, A., Miller, C. B., Hoyos, C. M., & Glozier, N. (2018). Sleep health epidemiology in low and middle-income countries: a systematic review and meta-analysis of the prevalence of poor sleep quality and sleep duration. Sleep Health, 4(3), 239–250.

Sveaass, N. (2008). Destroying Minds: Psychological Pain and the Crime of Torture. CUNY Law Review, 11(2), 303.

Tempesta, D., Couyoumdjian, A., Curcio, G., Moroni, F., Marzano, C., De Gennaro, L., & Ferrara, M. (2010). Lack of sleep affects the evaluation of emotional stimuli. Brain Research Bulletin, 82(1–2), 104–108.

Tempesta, D., Couyoumdjian, A., Moroni, F., Marzano, C., De Gennaro, L., & Ferrara, M. (2012). The impact of one night of sleep deprivation on moral judgments. Social Neuroscience, 7(3), 292–300.

Trivedi, M. S., Holger, D., Bui, A. T., Craddock, T. J. A., & Tartar, J. L. (2017). Short-term sleep deprivation leads to decreased systemic redox metabolites and altered epigenetic status. PLoS ONE, 12(7), 1–13.

US Army. (2006). FM 2-22.3. Human Intelligence Collector Operations. (Vol. 3). Washington DC.

Watson, N. F., Badr, M. S., Belenk, G., & Bliwise, D. L. (2015). Recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult.

American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society, 38(6), 843–844.

Yetish, G., Kaplan, H., Gurven, M., Wood, B., Pontzer, H., Manger, P. R., … Siegel, J. M. (2015). Natural sleep and its seasonal variations in three pre-industrial societies. Current Biology, 25(21), 2862–2868.

Yin, J., Jin, X., Shan, Z., Li, S., Huang, H., Li, P., … Liu, L. (2017). Relationship of sleep duration with all-cause mortality and cardiovascular events: A systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Journal of the American Heart Association, 6(9).

How to Cite
Pérez-Sales, P. (2019). The 6/24 rule: A review and proposal for an international standard of a minimum of six hours of continuous sleep in detention settings. Torture Journal, 29(2), 1-10.