Managing SHTF Sleep Deprivation

Before I even got started on this report there was an initial title change from avoiding to managing. It quickly occurred to me that during any type of prolonged SHTF event that sleep was highly likely to suffer. Count on it. But can we learn to deal with it?

A worn out look, red eyes, black circles, staring into space, disorientation, headaches, stumbling, uncontrolled shaking, thirst, irrational thinking, problematic problem solving, and Zombie-like appearance and behavior. You’re alive, but “walking dead.”  Sleep deprivation can definitely have a serious impact on your SHTF event behavior and performance, so plan for it happening at some point.

Visualizing Sleep Deprivation

It is amazing the reality topics one can glean from watching select television programming.  In today’s media driven Survival Blog Doomsday Prepperstelevision market there is just enough research conducted to make much of the plot seem as realistic and plausible as possible. I found this true when watching the Easter weekend marathon of Walking Dead on AMC.  After a while of watching several episodes, I began to notice the slow but sure decline in the acuity of the main character Rick Grimes, the sheriff’s deputy that assumed the role as the Bug-Out group’s leader. Rick was obviously suffering from sleep deprivation. Its signs were plain. To watch this transformation coming on, one has to know the program writers knew they were introducing the behavior of sleep deprivation.

The other clue was that the “doc” veterinarian in the prison “Bug-Out” camp kept counseling Rick that he needed rest. Rick ignored the advice as he continued his decline in function from one chapter to the next. On several occasions he nearly collapsed. It became wildly evident to me that this lack of rest/sleep thing was a realistic phenomenon that needed some consideration of thought. So, here are my thoughts.

You won’t know it, when you got it

According to the most basic definition of sleep deprivation from Wikipedia, “it is the condition of not having enoughsurvival blogsleep. Ok, we probably got that one right on the multiple choice test questions. “A chronic sleep restricted state can cause fatigue, daytime sleepiness, clumsiness, and weight loss or gain. It adversely affects the brain and cognitive function.” Sleep deprivation over long periods of time can cause diabetes, effects on the brain, effects on growth, impacts on the healing process, loss of attention and functional memory, over all decline of general abilities, and many other maladies.

It is not a simple condition that can be ignored, especially for preppers and others caught up in a survival scenario. The worst part of having this condition is the fact that once you have it, it may already be too late to recognize you have it. It’s like boiling a frog in water by slowly raising the temperature of the water. The frog never notices the changes until its dead, and rarely does a person in the throws of sleep deprivation.

Rationale for Group Bug-Out Partnerships

All of you died-in-the-wool preppers have long ago debated the pros and cons of either going it alone or with a limited number of close family members or a much bigger, but perhaps still manageable sized group.  Obviously going totally solo is the toughest route, and frankly I personally think the most impractical.  Few people if any have all the collective skills and knowledge needed to survive a SHTF by themselves.

In a group Bug-In or Out the “team” can learn to rely on each other. There is an immediate system of checks and balances for everything from gathering/preparing food, doing security work, area maintenance, health checks, and everything else.  One of the high level advantages to working within a group is that each person can monitor how each other person is doing. This is critical when it comes to members that are on medications, or have pre-existing conditions. It is particularly helpful for everyone to watch each others behavior in potential cases of depression, paranoia, fear, shock, and conditions like sleep deprivation. This group partnership also pays huge dividends when it comes to everyday accidents, minor or serious.

If the onset of any of these is caught early enough, then accommodations among the group can be made to deal with them to a positive conclusion. In this treatise we focus on sleep deprivation which if working solo could evolve without much notice, and then it’s too late. In a group each can easily see signs that the lack of dedicated sleep is impacting a person’s performance and behavior.

Catnaps, Mini-sleeps, Dozing, and Rim Sleep

Eventually you will sleep. But the primary question is do you want to maintain the control of the how, when, and where orsurvival blog have the lack of sleep inadvertently control you? The best strategy is to plan for sleep just like any other necessity of maintaining all other daily activities within a Bug-Out or Bug-In set up.

All people sleep at different times and flexible rates with varying intensities. In a normal daily routine many of us work eight hours a day, and sleep eight hours a night.  But then these days such a schedule seems far more rare than standard. There are many
work/rest schedules for a lot of people that certainly don’t fall within the realm of eight hour set periods.

Lots of people work shift work, odd schedules, weekends, and nights. They find sleep when they can, however poor the quality. One way or the other we all have some sort or manner of a routine. During a SHTF episode that routine is going to be totally disrupted and often turned completely upside down or inside out. Many of us will have to relearn how to grab some shut eye any way we can. Some should be better than none.

College kids it seems can sleep until noon or after on a weekend. Most adults find sleep more illusive as age gains on them. Physical labor, stress, health conditions, mere comfort and age can factor into the amount of sleep somebody needs to function. At 62 and still working full time I find a noon time nap at work is helpful to keeping my mind sharp for the second half of the work day.  When I get home around 5 pm, I find a 15-30 minute catnap really revives me before I fix the family dinner.  I hit the sack for earnest rest around 11:00.  Now that I use a Sleep Apnea machine, I find I obtain a deeper, more effective rim sleep, though it is short-lived. However, will I be able to use that air pump during a SHTF event?  It’s doubtful without electrical support.

So, during a SHTF develop as fixed a schedule as you can.  Work toward trading off duties with others so that everybody can find time to sleep. You may not be able to lie down on a mattress bed for several hours.  A good recliner or a soft spot out in the woods can work, too.  In this regard the comfort factor must be addressed. Nobody sleeps well on a rock, standing up in a corner, or across the hood of a car.

As you compile your supplies for a Bug-Out in particular since the comforts of home will no longer be available for the most part, do plan for high quality options in a sleeping bag, portable pad, and some sort of pillow.  Same for a Bug-In make plans to sleep however short lived.  Catching a few catnaps or dozing for a short time will help if prolonged sleep is not possible.  Find a soft, quiet place and take full advantage of every opportunity to sleep despite how minor.  Otherwise sleep deprivation will creep in and take control over you.  Avoid that at all costs.

Obviously this is just a cursory thumbnail sketch of the issues related to sleep deprivation and how it can impact preppers. It is just one more concern to address in your prepping plans.  Without sleep at some level, you cannot perform at your peak and sooner or later it will produce a negative impact.  At the same time monitor all your team members to make sure they get some required rest, too.  Outlasting a SHTF is going to be tough enough as it is.  Just don’t end up dead, because you were dead tired.

Photos by:
Dr. John J. Woods
The Walking Dead

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Written by John J. Woods

John J. Woods, PhD, has been outdoor writing for over 35 years with over 3000 articles, and columns published on firearms, gun history, collecting, appraising, product reviews and hunting. Dr. Woods is currently the Vice President of Economic Development at a College in the Southern United States. Read his full interview here. Read more of John J.'s articles.

12 thoughts on “Managing SHTF Sleep Deprivation”

  1. Good topic Dr. J. Thanks.

    I always imagined that I'd go face down in my oatmeal any chance I got. Sleep would come the moment I sat down. But of course that's not always realistic.

    Two additional points that might help here are 1) physical fitness is directly tied to sleep efficiency, and 2) many folks have adapted to a life filled with "junk sleep" so they are a little removed from the realities of quality sleep.

    On the first point, if one is out of shape, then the inefficiencies of body function extend to its ability to deeply relax. Overweight or physically unfit individuals will require more sleep time for the same result compared to fit folks. Like dogs, you can play hard and then sleep hard. But if you are a little soft around the middle, then more sleep is required and it will take longer to get there.

    Junk Sleep, on the other hand, is often screen-induced. If you go to bed with the TV on, the laptop on the night stand, or an iPad in hand, you basically introduced an electrically powered sleep inefficiency that takes longer to get over thus delaying or preventing the all important REM sleep (I believe you meant REM, not RIM).

    So in essence, sleep is something that is both earned and practiced. When the SHTF, sleep deprivation is not an equal opportunity employer. It will effect some more than others. While Rick in TWD slowly came apart to the point of hallucinating, sleep was a part of it, but so was questionable nutrition, stress, and a pre-existing condition of over acting.

    Before I add a pillow to my BOB, I think I will do a few extra laps, and up my intake of survival camping. For comfort is a skill to be learned and practiced.

    • Sorry, I am so late coming back. I did not realize the post was up. Thanks for your comments, and you are nail head on the hit. As you can see from the photo of me in my favorite Sunday afternoon football chair, I am not going to appear on Mr. Universe any time soon. As to fitness you are 100% correct, but then I probably represent the average 63 year old bug in dude. You right on REM, either my typo or the editorial gods…..

  2. Solo or small group, I believe a guard dog or two will help you sleep well since their senses (especially for sound and smell) are much more acute than even a well-trained persons. Down side of this may be that what concerns a dog (rabbit, etc.) may not relevant to you (unless you're hungry) and become a nuisance, maybe even keeping you awake! REM (Rapid Eye Movement) is a deep and quite necessary sleep level, both on a physical and mental level! Research has shown that 8 hours up and 4 hours down, and repeat is perhaps the most efficient sleep pattern once you have gotten used to it, but I doubt that a SHTF situation will allow anything that regular, and the night time will probably become the normal sleeping time for everyone again!

  3. All valid points as an Infantryman in the Army I can certainly tell you that sleep deprivation is one of the most trained subjects in the military. All field training is done under sleep deprived conditions and there is no break from nor end in sight. When you are tired enough you will fall asleep anywhere and you begin to condition your body to the environment, but you will never function at 100%. Bottom line is sleep deprivation has to be trained and rehearsed like anything else, in order to function.

    -CavIntry 9mm

  4. all good points but i now i can function properly as long as i get exactly 4.5 hours of sleep i went 2 years of school,work,and working out with just 4.5 hours. i got it from my dad he spent 20 years this way 12 hour work days 2 hours in the gem taking care of us kids it is passable and perfesser prepare is right i cant remember when i needed more then 5 hours of sleep until after i stoped working out as much but after 2 weeks you will krash for at lest 12 hours you are warned

  5. You have to have a rotation plan. I remember during one exercise in the Marine Corps – the company commander stayed up for three days and by the third day he was wearing his Kevlar Helmet backwards.

  6. My personal feelings are we all suffer from at least a little Sleep Deprivation at some point during each day. Why do I say that? Most people I know generally get 4 to 6 hours of sleep a night. Then go to work for 6 to 10 hours a day. Then come home for diner and to "Relax"! Most of those people say that around noon their butts are dragging and then between 2pm and 3pm they are so tired they could fall asleep! Then when they go to leave work to go home between 3pm and 5pm they get adrenaline flowing which "wakes" them up a little because they are so damn excited to be going home! lol Usually on the drive home they are yawning and trying to keep from "dozing off", closing their eyes, and just Falling asleep.

    Of course what people have to eat for breakfast and for lunch does have an impact on how tired they feel through out the day. People should have a larger more nutritious breakfast, then a lighter lunch, and then a light diner. with a couple of snacks between meals. That helps spread out the intake of energy and helps to prevent the "sleepy" feeling from eating a large filling meal.

    Also it does help to take a short 15 minute to 45 minute nap sometime during the midday hours between 12pm and 3pm. That helps to re-energize you, from what I have read and seen on various TV programs.

    As was mentioned before when a SHTF event happens one needs to make time to Eat, Drink Water, Go to the bathroom, have shelter, have warmth or be cool, and get sleep!! Why? Because your survival depends on all of those things! if you skimp on any of those you run the risk of getting ill, injured, and/or even dying!!

  7. Sleep whats that ?

    My whole life I have not had a specif time for sleep my personal best is 9 days no sleep or napping.

    My view is it is not sleep but awareness once awake if you need time that may be time you do not have.
    I have no idea how but I can wake and ready quick without noise or wondering where I am.
    usually I do not need a alarm it is finicky i have woke just before or an hour early.

    Somehow I have become acclimated to that lifestyle jump and run eat if I can as I can.

    I know a lot of people that don't get it together till lunch or fall asleep as soon as they relax and no matter if your not adjusted to chaotic sleep patterns or alert wakening it is not something you can make happen some people just have a dopamine level not conducive to jump & run I do realize some people are lazy or lack focus.
    and that is unfortunately a large segment of society.

    as far as snoring tighten that chinstrap that helps


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