The one thing you can never get
enough of in combat is sleep. Since lack of sleep is bad for performance, as
well as morale, the U.S. Army has developed guidelines for dealing with lack of
First, everyone is taught what to expect from lack
of sleep. After 24 hours without sleep, troops begin to lose their ability to
concentrate and think clearly. This, as always, is worst between 3 AM and 6 AM.
After 36 hours, there is a very obvious difficulty in understanding orders and
instructions. After 72 hours, performance on most physical and mental tasks
will be about 50 percent, or less, of
normal and most troops will be "militarily ineffective" (more dangerous to
themselves and fellow troops, than to the enemy). After three days without sleep,
things can do downhill rapidly, with some troops seeing things, and others
having difficulty focusing on any task. At this point, you can't expect the
troops to carry on in any organized fashion. However, ten hours of
uninterrupted sleep will bring full recovery to most troops who have had no
sleep for 3-4 days.
It's possible to get by (perform adequately) on
four hours of continuous sleep every 24 hours. This can last 3-4 weeks, but
varies by individual. After troops hit their limit, performance begins to
decline rapidly. At that point, a ten hour sleep (uninterrupted) is needed to
It helps to allow troops to get short naps, but
this is no real substitute for hours of uninterrupted sleep. It also helps if,
even when getting only four hours a day, that four hours of sleep comes at the
same time of day.
Combat troops are not the only ones who encounter
long periods of little or no sleep. Support troops are often required to do
tedious, and/or exacting work for equally long hours. Mistakes can be just as
fatal if you are driving a fuel truck, moving munitions around with a forklift,
or repairing dangerous equipment. The mark of a good commander, whether it be a
sergeant in charge of a squad or team, or a colonel running a brigade, is how well
they look after the sleep, or lack of sleep, situation.