Two little boys playing happily together with space rockets in a spacious sitting room is a happy family scene that would melt the hearts of most.
Yet, it was this very set-up that sent Heather Bryson-Banks into a violent, vindictive and terrifying rage last month.
Heather’s sons Rowan, six, and Harry, four, were happily oblivious to the brewing storm as they played with the rockets they’d been given for Christmas – until their mother marched into the room and ripped the toys from their hands.
Heather Bryson-Banks, 33, a lecturer from Somerset with sons Rowan, six, right, and Harry, four, left
Heather admits that her angry reactions are excessive – and she needs 10 hours of sleep a night to escape it
The boys watched, distraught, as Heather stomped off outside, shouting at them over her shoulder for being ‘so noisy’, and dropped their toys into the dustbin at their home in Somerset.
Heather, a lecturer, is now completely contrite, and admits that her reaction was excessive. She blames it on her battle with what experts have dubbed ‘slanger’ – seething anger that consumes a person when they don’t get enough sleep.
The condition – the sleep equivalent of so-called ‘hanger’, rage driven by lack of food – disproportionately affects women, according to U.S. scientists, as they are more susceptible to the ill-effects of sleep deprivation and become more hostile and angry than men.
‘I need ten hours’ sleep a night, otherwise I’m a nightmare,’ confesses Heather, 33. ‘I’m usually in bed by 9pm, but I had made the mistake of staying up until 11pm and we all paid the price.’
Husband Wayne, 39, finds Heather’s furious outbursts so hard to live with that he has spent the past six years willingly retiring to bed at 9pm with her.
‘We’ll see trailers for TV programmes that don’t start until 9.30pm, so Wayne has to record them to watch at 7pm the following night,’ says Heather.
Her problems started when Rowan was born in 2009, and she began to realise that too little sleep made her irrationally furious. During those first few months of round-the-clock feeds, Heather fought hard to keep her temper with her son, and instead would shout and scream at Wayne, a builder.
She says: ‘I remember once being awake in the early hours with Rowan wailing inconsolably and I was so tired I felt I couldn’t go on. I ran into the back garden and screamed, ‘Shut up!’ over and over. Bedroom lights went on in houses all around us as neighbours got up to see what the racket was, but I was far too livid to care.’
Jin Dhillon, 40, a part-time mortgage adviser from Oxford, became so enraged at her investment banker husband, Rapinder, 41, while feeding their daughter Jaya in the night they decided not to have more children
While Heather largely had the sense and capability to keep a lid on her temper at work, she found it impossible to control when she returned after maternity leave.
She’s still mortified by the way she blew a fuse at a student. ‘I totally lost it and screamed: ‘Get out of here! Now!’ ‘ recalls Heather. ‘I would never usually speak to someone in that way, and the following day I apologised.
‘I get embarrassed because in everyday life I’m a friendly, chatty easy-going woman, but lack of sleep just turns me into a monster.’
Dr Irshaad Ebrahim, of the London Sleep Centre, says sleep deprivation can cause symptoms of depression. This is not, he stresses, a simple case of grumpiness.
Heather once smashed her husband’s iPad in rage the day after a Halloween party, where she stayed up late
‘Lack of sleep affects the body’s ability to metabolise serotonin, a chemical in the brain that regulates our mood and energy, and when it’s disrupted we experience symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well as lethargy. Some people become withdrawn and quiet while others get irritable and angry.’
While Wayne is largely understanding, his patience ran out when Heather smashed his iPad in a fit of rage last October.
The couple had enjoyed a late night at a Halloween party, and the following day, feeling predictably tetchy, Heather was struggling to plug the iPad into the socket when suddenly she threw it across the living room.
‘Wayne was really cross and upset and told me, not for the first time, that being tired doesn’t entitle me to take it out on other people, or their things.’
Jin tries hard not to take her anger out on her daughter but admits that it’s hard, especially during busy times
According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults up to the age of 64 need between seven and nine hours’ shut-eye, while older people require seven to eight.
Though most of us can handle a few broken nights without feeling murderous, Jin Dhillon cannot.
She was so often enraged with her investment banker husband, Rapinder, 41, while feeding their daughter Jaya, now six, in the night that they gave up on their plans to have more children.
‘It put a huge strain on our marriage,’ says Jin, 40. ‘Once, when Jaya was three months old, my husband came home to find me in my pyjamas and said: ‘What have you done all day? You haven’t cooked dinner and the house is a tip.’
‘The red mist descended and, clenching my fists, I screeched: ‘You’d better get out of here before I do something I regret!’ ‘
Jin’s permanent exhaustion meant it was days before her anger subsided to a level where she could speak to her husband civilly.
When Jaya was three months old, my husband came home to find me in my pyjamas and said: ‘What have you done all day? You haven’t cooked dinner and the house is a tip.’ ‘The red mist descended and I screeched: ‘You’d better get out of here before I do something I regret!’
She still experiences extreme rage when tired from juggling her roles of part-time mortgage advisor and mother, but the outbursts are now more short-lived. ‘I try very hard not to take it out on my daughter, but there are times, like on the run up to Christmas when I wasn’t sleeping well, when my anger gets the better of me,’ admits Jin.
As her days are always busy, Jin is often tired and cross in the evenings when she collects Rapinder, who commutes from their Oxford home to the City and back each day, from the train station.
‘By that time I’m exhausted and it makes me so cross when he doesn’t have the courtesy to let me know his train’s running late,’ says Jin. ‘I’ll completely lose it with him when he finally gets in the car, but after such a long day I don’t think he has the energy to argue back.
‘He’s understanding about my behaviour because he knows that, when I’m not tired, I’m quite a happy-go-lucky person and we have a lot of fun together as a family.’
While relatives may make allowances, retired business analyst Janice Bryant, from Cambridgeshire, was once sent on a negotiation skills course after an outburst during a meeting at the American multi-national where she worked.
‘I’ve always been sharp-tongued and irritable when I’m tired,’ says Janice, 56. ‘I remember that day, I’d only managed to get around six hours’ sleep and felt the anger building during the meeting.’
She continues: ‘I believed two colleagues were trying to railroad me into something I didn’t want to do, so I stood up and screamed ‘No!’ at them.
‘In my appraisal shortly afterwards, my boss asked me to do the negotiation skills course and I agreed because I was too embarrassed to explain I’d only let rip because of a poor night’s sleep.’
Sadly, the course was no help during the sleep-deprived haze after Janice’s mother died a few years ago. In the heat of an argument over dinner, about music for the funeral, Janice threw her cutlery across the table at her brother, to both his and their elderly father’s shock and horror.
‘I stormed off to bed and, after a good night’s sleep, apologised profusely the next day,’ says Janice.
‘Thankfully they forgave me because they know that sort of behaviour is completely out of character – unless I’m very tired.’
However, as Janice, Jin and Heather can’t always be guaranteed a good night’s sleep, perhaps it’s time they learnt to control their slanger.
Otherwise, they may find the people in their lives are not always quite so forgiving.