Sleep Deprivation and SHTF

Picture of Selco


I am Selco and I am from the Balkan region, and as some of you may know it was hell here from 92-95, anyway, for 1 whole year I lived and survived in a city WITHOUT: electricity, fuel, running water, food distribution, without any kind of organized law or government. The city was surrounded for 1 year and it actually was a real SHTF situation. Our allies were our enemies from one day to the next. Today I’m prepared and share my experience on this blog.

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Image from Häggström, Mikael (2014). “Medical gallery of Mikael Häggström 2014”. WikiJournal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.008. ISSN 2002-4436. Public Domain.

It is one of those things that lot of people do not see, that when SHTF they will have big problems with and due to sleep deprivation.

Reasons are many, maybe it is going to be too dangerous so you’ll be forced to stay awake for prolonged time, or simply your sleep cycle will be messed up because you’ll be depressed when SHTF, or you will not have enough time for quality sleep…

It is important to understand what you can expect when sleep deprivation gets you…

 Your Performance

I use to call that feeling –„being in a bubble“.

It is like being on drugs that makes you feel like you do not care about things around you.

For example you find yourself in situation when you do not care are you going to be shot, you clearly see that you have high chances to be shot from sniper on very dangerous intersection, you see that odds are high for that, but you taking that small chance (of not being shot) and go over that intersection, partly because you do not care and partly because you are feeling invincible.

You are in the „bubble“, in a strange state of feelings and processing information around you and that „bubble“ came, largely, from sleep deprivation.

Your perception of danger situation gets twisted in weird ways, and you react different, sometimes you want to be hero without reasons, or sometimes you become coward – again without reason.

Let’s at least say it moves you out of your „normal“.

Once, I was hiding for 3 days in ruined house with my friend, while unit of soldiers were out on the street.

Maybe 50 people with one tank, they were drinking and occasionally entering houses around our house to check for stuff, their tank was broken, something with engine and they kept the engine roaring almost all the time, fixing something with fuel or oil.

We did not sleep for those 3 days, we were ready to jump in a split second if they entered our house. On the third day my friend announced to me that he is writing poem about this situation, and I myself was very close to going out to the guys and tell them that I do not believe in war or something like that, in the belief they’d respond with ‘Okay, well then go from here(!?!)’.

Luckily that day they moved away after they fixed the engine.

Weird Things

It is subjective, but based on my personal experience you can expect after 3-4 days of no sleeping during SHTF  to see things that are not there, or on the other hand not to see things that there. (Toby comment: Be aware this can happen MUCH sooner in some people, even in less than 24hrs depending on the stressors around, age of the individual and overall fatigue level, among other influences)

This fact was reason for many deaths, and also it was reason for many scary legends in that time.

Personally I saw couple of times people that are not falling down after clearly being shot several times, dead people walking,  strange lights, sounds, or simply let’s say ‘ghosts’.

I learned over the time to notice and observe things like that, but not to react, otherwise I would probably have gone crazy.

When you hear baby crying 10 meters from you in abandoned and ruined house in the middle of night and you follow the sound and go there, and there is nothing there, but now same sound coming from other room that can give you some weird feelings in your guts.

You observe, but not react-otherwise you go crazy.

Fear and lack of sleep will play with your mind.

What Can You Do?

Just like with lot of other things connected with SHTF very often you can not do s..t with sleep deprivation because it simply will be there, but there are things that you can consider because they help:

-Stay Healthy

Sleep deprivation when SHTF is always accompanied with other things, such as lucid dreaming for example

. So it is good to at least take away that other things. If you are having diarrhea, or you are malnourished, or simply you are out of shape AND you are in the middle of sleep deprivation that makes things a lot worse.

If you are in good shape and having lack of sleep, it is something that you can work with, you can survive.

– Do Not Be Alone

It is good old SHTF advice- do not be alone. Being with someone means that you can have support, someone who can recheck your decisions (or vice versa), someone who can take lead when you are „down“ or simply someone who can be awake while you are taking short sleep.

Be Careful With Stimulants (drugs, alcohol. etc…)

It is maybe not „politically correct“ to say, but again based on personal experience drugs and alcohol are helping in sleep deprivation BUT only in short terms, on longer terms actually they will f..k you up even more, so be VERY careful with that, nothing can beat a short normal nap.

Have Short Naps!

I can count on the fingers of one hand how many times I had a full night sleep during my SHTF period. But I did have short naps. 20-30 minutes. And they help.

Even in the middle of shelling or fight, somewhere hidden (more or less) I would put sunglasses on and cotton in ears and had short nap. It was very „shallow“ sleep.

At night sunglasses can minimize the effects of flashes around you, and cotton can take away a bit of detonations sound. (yes, good thing to store today is „eye covers” for sleeping and ear plugs)

Sleep Deprivation and You

I have to point out that my SHTF experience was bit „drastic“, so you may not be found in middle of shelling, but still I can assure you that you will have problems with sleep deprivation when SHTF because of the amount of new situations that SHTF brings, so be prepared for that.

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7 Responses

  1. My last 4 years in the army, I was responsible for unit security. Many of the senior NCO’s were lazy and complained a lot whenever I requested men for sentry duty. As a result, I often had to stay awake for 3 or 4 days at a time. I couldn’t trust them to send their men when needed and sometimes they would pull their men from their posts for other tasks. They wouldn’t inform anyone that there was a gap in security, they would just leave. I would have to be constantly alert to police the safety of my own unit.

  2. Many years ago when I was half the man I am now…physically, I went through the US Army’s Ranger School back in the early 1990’s. When I recount some of the stories, I tell people about getting between 3-5 hours of sleep per week. They frequently correct me, thinking I meant to say 3-5 hours of sleep per night. You should see `the looks on their faces when I tell them that it really was “per week”. RLTW.

  3. When I was in basic training in the early 1980’s, the Army was doing sleep depravation experiments on us. There were 4 platoons in my training company. 3 of the 4 got 6 hours sleep a night, but my platoon was the experimental one… we got on average 2 hours sleep a night, and often less. The results showed… we were slow, weak, stupid, and did poorly during training tests. I once went 3 days on 1.5 hours sleep and literally fell asleep standing up while holding a big cardboard box of papers because I could not decide which desk to set them on during extra duty. Nowadays, when I am sleep deprived, I am prone to be very grumpy and to have to resist thoughts of violence when annoyed… the more short on sleep I am, the more I have to fight the urge to punch someone that is in my way.

    I think the thing to remember is that others will be sleep deprived also during SHTF. If you see someone being a crazed azzhole, maybe he’s just snapped due to stress and lack of sleep. Maybe sitting him down for a short rest will help. But also, if a desperate person is sleep deprived, and is coming at you, he may be literally out of his right mind… you may have to do something drastic. Whatever the case, lack of sleep will make you crazy. Take those little naps Selco spoke of. Even 30 minutes of nap will stave off the madness for a little while. It’s what we did in the Army to get by.

    As for eye coverings, I have some great tube-cloths that are multi-purpose… they are called “Recon Wraps” and they are from Spec-Ops Gear. They come in various colors and camo patterns. You can wear them as hats, masks, scarfs, goggle covers, eye covers for naps, etc. They are super versatile and I have fistfuls of them that I use. Check them out, you may like them. (I have no affiliation with the product, I am just a happy end-user)

  4. Levels of stress greatly change how well you operate for long stretches of time. I have gone over three days without sleep for college and work. Not smart, but doable. Should not cook, should not drive, but was coherent enough to get the work done. Every year for five years straight I worked a job that in August and September we all pulled 80 hour work weeks. The rest of the year the work week was typically 50-60 hours. The pay was great, but as you can imagine it is not healthy on the body or the mind to maintain that.

    I now live on a farm with rather rare livestock. There are fewer than 5,000 in the U.S. Our animals have never been easy birthers. Rarer breeds of livestock sometimes have quirks from the limited gene pools caused by too few ancestors. In our case this ends up with us inevitably helping birth for 12-36 hours straight. Twelve hours is exhausting enough, thirty-six hours of touch and go delivery struggling to keep the dam and the young alive and healthy… it is beyond completely and utterly all consuming. Bare in mind that losing a dam would set you back two years for a new one to mature. Bare in mind that rarer animals tend to be worth a pretty penny, and we have a list of buyers waiting every year.

    Two of us together take shifts. One sleeps for twenty minutes or so if they can, then they wake up and help with the next delivery. Switch off, rinse and repeat. Halfway through the mother takes a rest which can last from 1-4 hours… but it could also just be a baby completely stuck which can lead to the loss of the rest of the young and the mother. If a third person is there they make food, but my friend and I are the only ones who manage the deliveries because the animals are not used to others, too fragile, worth too much, etc.

    We have managed to breed our animals to be slightly hardier, average delivery these days is closer to 12 hours. Those 36 hour nights though still give me nightmares. Thinking becomes almost impossible. Stay hydrated, force some sort of food down even if you are not hungry. Sleep if you can.

    Fun fact: hiking and camping stores in mountainous areas sometimes sell canned oxygen. I am not a doctor, but I hear people and animals breathe oxygen. Just saying.

  5. Working as a wellsite geologist I had many occasions to go without sleep. The worst was a ten day period on one of the first Bakken horizontal wells when I got 8 hours of sleep in a week. That’s 8 hours total for the 7-day week, not counting ‘micronods’ (extremely short duration naps, usually <1 minute). This was one of the early wells in the "Bakken oil boom", nearly 18 years ago, and the first of those wells for that oil company who grew to be a large player in the boom (and was bought out, eventually by a Major). As the 'normal' workweek on more conventional wells ran 84 hours, some of the effects were familiar, but, with protracted and increased sleep deprivation I noticed the following:

    Irritability–which tended to fade somewhat after an initial spike, just because you don't have the energy to be pissed off, which accompanied the usual yawning and lethargy with not enough sleep. It was still present, but the 'don't care' attitude toward smaller things became important to conserving energy. Major things could still cause irritation enough to get a reaction.

    Random twitches, especially in the knees and legs. YMMV.

    Loss of efficiency and short term memory. (Write down critical numbers, details, etc., because you will not remember them in a minute or two).

    Loss of ability to work complex problems follows, as your train of thought is easily derailed. You start second-checking everything, then second checking your checks. It consumes a lot of time, and at some point you have to go with what you have. Even if you can work complex problems, the ability to explain that logic degrades.

    I noticed a tendency to start moving small objects a short distance, and often ended up moving them back, in a sort of OCD-like fidget. Then movements were meaningless except as an indicator, none of the rearrangements made any difference as to function or aesthetics, but they consumed time and kept me moving when there was not enough time to sleep.

    There is a sense of creeping paranoia (which I thought I'd mention, which in a SHTF situation could wreck a group fast) that things which malfunction are 'out to get you' or 'don't like you', and with that attribution of human characteristics come some opportunities to take some odd paths with your thought processes. Avoid that. It's a thing, and has no feelings, or convince yourself you love it and it is sick and needs your help to work and be 'happy'–whatever it takes to put the sledgehammer down. Similarly, with people, never attribute to malice what may be simple oversight or incompetence. Avoiding viewing 'friendlies' as having hostile intent is a must.

    "Not caring" falls in there somewhere, where sense of perspective fades and that could also lead to making poor decisions, even in a situation which does not include an active hostile presence. That does not mean you don't care if the job gets done or about the quality of the work, but it does increase the likelihood that you will depend on the driver of the water truck driving through the site to use his brakes rather than worry about stepping out in front of it.

    There is a tendency to live in the moment, without thinking or planning ahead or reflecting on past experience. This hampers judgement, and can affect critical planning. This can also amplify any current problem out of proportion, as there is a tendency to fixate on it. To some degree, habits take over (for good or ill), but in new, fast changing, and unique situations, habit can be of little help.

    Auditory hallucinations were next, sometimes the vivid recollection of music or pop songs, which graduated eventually to voices and other sounds, often pleasant and helpful reminders to do things in my case, the sounds sometimes false alarms of equipment malfunction (change in pitch of air pumps, the ticking of an analog meter pegging), but all had to be checked out.
    Although it was remotely possible to have field mice invading the lab (on a drilling rig location in Montana), the darting shadows in the edge of my vision proved later to be hallucinations, or those were the tidiest mice ever, because they left none of the usual signs of having been present.

    Falling asleep will happen: I have been caught falling asleep standing up over a dozen times in such situations, sometimes by others, sometimes by bumping my head into something I was standing next to (in this case an instrument rack in a mobile lab), once by one of the rig hands while I was leaning against a derrick leg on the drill floor (while drilling). A blink can result in a two to three minute nap–or maybe only two or three seconds. At some point your body/brain will just shut down for a few seconds if nothing else. This makes driving in such a state particularly hazardous (or operating heavy equipment). Such operations should be left to better rested folks. If that can't be avoided, someone to keep the driver focused is a must.
    Finally, a protracted state of zombie-like functioning inefficiency, in which you are too tired to be irritable, you write everything down, take much longer to solve problems, and may forget the most basic things and have to go back and re-do them or get them. Double checking increases the likelihood of getting it right, but consumes time. You have to balance the time factor against the consequences of not getting it right. A forgotten piece of gear in my circumstance was an inconvenience, in SHTF, could alert others to your presence, or could be something you did not want to do without.

    Keep in mind the tasks which I was performing were basically the same as I had done hundreds or thousands of times, with outstanding efficiency in the past, only the type of operation (horizontal well and keeping it in the target) was relatively new at the time.These were, for the most part, familiar and well-practiced actions. Operating in an unfamiliar environment under less familiar circumstances would have only compounded the problems.

    It dawns on me, after talking with a Sheriff's detective neighbor, that this progression of symptoms are similar to the reported behaviours of speed freaks and meth heads, who essentially go long periods of time without sleep (all I had was coffee, something likely to be unavailable in a SHTF situation because the smell of brewing coffee will carry almost as far as that of a cigarette and tip people off to your presence). Add in that the speed freaks and Meth heads had very real reasons to fear arrest and prison time, and their paranoia becomes actionable, resulting in hostility and violence toward people they suspect of disclosing their activities or who might apprehend them. The basic amped up fight/flight reaction accounts for why it takes five large cops to hold down one skinny little junkie–the adrenaline rush is coming on top of stimulants already in their system. (One more reason to avoid stimulants when possible. )

    For all practical purposes, I was solo, even though I was working with others. I was the only one there who did what I was doing, which meant I was up every 30 ft. of drilling to make a steering decision. As the technology became more commonplace, the mode of operation evolved (and is still evolving) to compensate for the need to make quick and accurate decisions around the clock, and the crew size/qualifications changed to make operations more do-er friendly.

    It is still important to know and recognize these symptoms and mental states for what they are. Knowing efficiency and effectiveness will be affected enables you to set more realistic goals, and more accurately predict your performance. You establish habitual mental checklists for mundane things which will cover the basics and free your resources for more unusual circumstances. Humans are highly adaptable. Even the abnormal will assume a sense of 'normalcy' after a week or two. Surviving the transitions is the hard part.

  6. Like a couple of others here, I experienced severe sleep-deprivation during my time in the military. I ran critical communications equipment, including alerts for things like nuclear attacks. We were short handed, so the officers just ordered us to stay on watch, and went off to bed. At one point, somewhere past 40 hours without sleep I began to see things. The electic cables turned into snakes, pieces of paper lifted off desks and floated. I knew I was hallucinating, I knew what I saw wasn’t real, but I couldn’t stop it. I ended up in sick bay, they made sure I wasn’t on drugs, and then sent me back to work. At somewhere over 50 hours I got off watch and got around 6 hours sleep, and then it started all over.

    We continued at that level of work for months. You could actually feel your body deteriorating, and I was 21 y.o. physically had started out in great shape. At one point we heard something about a particular tragedy. Someone in the unit got killed or seriously injured. I felt complete indifference. I realized my emotions were completely dead. It took years to recover. Even today, over 50 years later, I can still completely turn off my emotions. All it takes to be a cold-blooded killer is the right experience.

    I find Smokin Joe’s account here very interesting, and so far as I can tell totally accurate. You really sort of have to experience it to believe it.

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