How To Manage Sleep Deprivation In A Survival Scenario

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Effects Of Sleep Deprivationimage © Dmitry –

During any type of prolonged SHTF event, sleep is 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 television 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 enoughsleep.

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 or 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.

By Dr. John J. Woods –

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