June 28, 2017

Coping With Sleep Deprivation; Confessions of an Insomniac

Coping With Sleep Deprivation; Confessions of an Insomniac
For most of my life, I was the kind of person that slept very well. I fell asleep easily and awoke rested. However, some years ago that changed. I was diagnosed with two types of insomnia. I struggle to fall asleep and, once I do, I get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep and then awaken several times the rest of the night. I underwent a sleep study and do not have sleep apnea. I take medication for insomnia now and, while I still have a bad night here and there, for the most part I sleep better.

I’m not sharing this to garner sympathy. I just figure that if faced with a survival situation, there are a host of things that could cause one to sleep poorly. I just happen to have some insight into what one can expect when you encounter a poor night’s sleep or a string of several poor nights’ sleep.

This article should not be viewed as any type of medical advice. This is purely from my own experiences or those others have shared with me. Some of the advice I give for either helping you stay awake or helping you get to sleep may not be medically safe for you. If there is any question, talk to your doctor!

While it is true that there are some standard side effects that most people encounter from a lack of sleep, the severity of those side effects and the rate at which they appear can vary. For instance, Bobby might normally get 9 hours of sleep. If he only gets five, he might be slightly irritable. Johnny, on the other hand, might normally get eight hours of sleep but gets cranky if he gets less than seven.

Impacts of Lacking Sleep

The severity of side effects due to one poor nights’ sleep can vary greatly. For instance, I don’t function well at all on less than five hours of sleep. If I can get six, I’ll be tired but I can get by. I have noticed that most of the effects from lacking sleep get worse if I sleep poorly for a few nights in a row. For example, at the time of this writing, I am on my fifth night of getting 5-6 hours. The first couple of days were bearable, but today I am thankful I don’t have to drive (and that I have a proof-reader!). The following are some of the effects I have seen.

Loss in cognitive ability; my job is “level two tech-support” for a very complex software product. One really poor night’s sleep or a few mediocre really take a toll. It takes me longer to troubleshoot issues, and I have to get assistance from co-workers more frequently. As I mentioned, I’m at five nights of poor sleep and I have forgotten words several times today. There have been decisions that I have had to put on hold as well as some serious conversations.

Irritability; this one for me is hit or miss. Sometimes I might be easier to irritate, or the level of irritability might be worse. Some days I’m not irritable at all and things that usually don’t make me laugh are suddenly funny.

Dry eyes; I’m not sure if my eyes get drier or if it just bothers me more. Either way, I have eye drops with me at all times.

Memory loss; this usually isn’t bad unless I have a couple bad nights in a row. I have learned to write notes and set Outlook reminders.

Loss of concentration; it takes less to derail my train of thought. This article, for example, is taking me twice as long to write as it normally would.

Lack of healing and increased pain; our bodies use sleep to heal us from the day’s wear and tear. When we don’t enter into a deep REM sleep, this doesn’t take place. I have a couple different causes of chronic pain. My pain is worse than normal on the days with less sleep.

Headaches; I get frequent headaches as it is, but they are either worse or harder to handle when I’ve slept poorly.

Loosing time; I don’t mean blacking out. It’s more like zoning out on steroids. I have found myself staring at a computer monitor until the power feature turns it off. I’ve “watched” television and realized half way through that, well, it’s halfway through and I don’t remember much of the first half.

Staying Asleep

Picture this; the grid has been down for five days and rioting and other civil unrest started in your area not long after. You and your spouse have taken shifts keeping watch at night. Even when you try sleep, it’s broken up by gunshots and the sounds of crying. How can you make sure that you’re sleeping and making the most of your sleep?

Pharmaceuticals can help, but if you have to be sharing a watch or making sure you have your wits about you as soon as you wake up, this might not be an option, as several drugs cause morning grogginess. I have tried several sleeping pills over the years. The hangover effect is much worse with some than it is with others. Melatonin has a far milder effect but is not an option for everyone, as it can cause some very vivid and no-so-pleasant dreams.

You would think that the lack of sleep would help you sleep better but that’s not always the case, especially in times of stress. Though you can be completely worn out and dragging, your mind won’t let you fall asleep. In times of stress, doing calming things before bed are a great idea. Doing something that can take your mind off the situation for a while is helpful as well.

If I can’t sleep, I could lay there all night trying. I have noticed that if I get up and play a game or surf the web for a while, I tend to fall asleep faster when I try laying down again.

There are several tea’s that boast aiding in relaxation and sleep.

Staying Awake

Imagine the same scenario as above; you’re getting half the amount of sleep that you normally would. How can you make sure you stay awake when it’s your turn to be on watch? While I haven’t had to live through this scenario, I have had to hold down a job, drive in traffic and complete other tasks that I had to make sure I was awake for.

Stimulants immediately come to mind, but in the scenario I have given, they might not be a good idea during the night. You want to make sure you’re able to sleep when it’s your turn. The 4 hour energy drink may be alright, I suppose.

I wrote an article called Caffeine as a Prep Item where I explored the pluses and minuses of caffeine in a survival situation.

Pain can work very well in the short term. A slap to the face, plucking a nose hair or other minor things can help you fight off sleep for a time.

Cold water, as cold as you can stand it, can do wonders. In the given scenario, this idea might not work, but filling the sink with ice cubes and cold water, dunking the hands and face every few minutes, might do the trick.

Be cautious of pushing it too far. Your body will shut down eventually. When I was in the Navy, I went to aviation electrician school. There was a guy in my class who hit the clubs a couple night in a row. One day in class, he fell asleep at his desk. He was made to stand in the back of the class and hold a 2×4 over his head. He fell asleep standing up and dropped it on his head twice before class was out.

Catching up on Sleep

It is possible to catch up on sleep, but depending on the deficit, it could take a few days. One of the best ways to do this is by taking one of God’s greatest blessings…a nap!

The following is from WebMD

The length of your nap and the type of sleep you get help determine the brain-boosting benefits. The 20-minute power nap — sometimes called the stage 2 nap — is good for alertness and motor learning skills like typing and playing the piano.

What happens if you nap for more than 20 minutes? Research shows longer naps help boost memory and enhance creativity. Slow-wave sleep — napping for approximately 30 to 60 minutes — is good for decision-making skills, such as memorizing vocabulary or recalling directions. Getting rapid eye movement or REM sleep, usually 60 to 90 minutes of napping, plays a key role in making new connections in the brain and solving creative problems.

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  1. Chris, when I was in the military and on sentry duty, if I was posted at a place where I sat, if I got tired in the middle of the night I would maintain erect sitting posture and refuse to slouch. That worked.

  2. I am sure we have all been there where we can’t sleep because of a crisis in our life … I know I lost many night’s sleep when I found out my wife had cancer … I can’t even imagine what would happen in a SHTF situation … sleep would be the least of my concerns, although that is probably the worse priority it could be

    • Chris Ray says:

      sleep is often one of the first things people cut back on for a variety of reasons. I can’t even count how many times I or others I have known have said “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”. sadly most of that was heard when I was younger and the options were to hit a club or go to bed.

      • I agree Chris … I can see me not getting sleep … but I keep reading everywhere (your post included) where you should get at least 8 hours of sleep per day. Not even sure how 8 is possible in normal life let alone stressed out life.

  3. RLS – Restless Leg Syndrome is a very bad situation which makes it hard to fall asleep and stay sleeping. I take a drug Roepinorole, but this does take the leg problem away and I do sleep, but the drug makes me nauseated if I am forced to wake up too soon. Have not found a natural herb to replicate the relaxation of my legs to fall asleep naturally. Some day I hope.

    • Chris Ray says:

      Sorry to hear you have restless leg, and the medication side effects are nasty as well.

    • Rev. Dr. Michael E Harris says:

      Vicki, RLS may or may not be real since the drugs for its cure/relief existed before anyone knew about RLS.

      I move at night because of pain in my lower back (erosion of L5/L6) and knee pain (arthritis). I used to have leg cramps at night, but my podiatrist said that quinine helps; his suggestion was to drink seltzer water at night (with some rum). Since I do not consume alcohol, I asked my pharmacist for quinine; he recommended Hylads Leg Cramp–just put one, two, or three under your tongue and let them dissolve (a few seconds) and forget about the cramps.

      • Chris Ray says:

        Just because the meds were around before they were used for an affliction, doesn’t mean the affliction is not real. The med I take for sleep is used for several things, and was discovered in treatment for those things to have a positive impact on peoples sleep.

  4. Bradley Robertson says:

    Hi Chris, this is a great topic as it probably effects/will effect some or most of us at one time or the other especially in a SHTF TEOTWAWKI situation. The military has done over a 100 years of research and data gathering on this very topic and they have found that sleep deprivation in survival situations does affect the individual but not towards a crisis situation. Their findings show that the “trained” can still operate at a high level because of “monkey skills” (basically a muscle/mind memory developed through training, training , training) Now for the officers they need a bit more sleep to keep enhanced ability for critical decision making (in other words thinking strategy). I can’t remember where this data was posted but it was on one of these prepper type sites (sorry). I’m sure a search on google can reveal this. I do have a couple of points to offer upon your experience you shared with us, 1) electronic (tv/video/gamming) stimulation 1-3 hours before sleeping is a kind of stimulant that the body/mind has a hard time shutting down to get into that rest place. This also can be found through sleep studies done then posted on the web. 2) using sleep aids such as natural methods like Melatonin, warm baths (when possible) relaxation techniques like calming your body through self suggestions like …toes relax…heels relax…feet etc…etc all the way up your body to your head ( I’ve used these on myself and they do help sometimes ). 3) and of course reading, lots of reading books of leisure (these help your mind to disengage and receive the signals of sleep cycle to begin shutting down). 4) another very helpful all around prepper positive method for resting is having done good physical exercise every day, some cardio (be it walking/running/skipping/biking (I found having a recumbent stationary bike in front of my tv is very user friendly and easy to just “get on”). Then weight training for strength

    • Chris Ray says:

      part of hell week training for SEAL training is that they are only allowed an hour or two of sleep a day. They are pushed very hard the hours they are awake. they do this to show them what they are capable of on little sleep.

  5. Rev. Dr. Michael E Harris says:

    When I was young–through college, I slept well. Then my sleep patterns became only a bit erratic. Now I have obstructive sleep apnea and need a CPAP at night.

    I cannot go camping, and surviving without the CPAP only shortens my life.

  6. Great article, and lots of good suggestions here! I sometimes have restless leg – thank God, not often – but researching alternative remedies (I’m a frustrated naturopath), I learned it’s caused by a mineral deficiency: magnesium, if I recall. I’ve noticed when I get sloppy w/ my diet, I do tend to have it. I’ve also recently discovered I’m dealing w/ a nearly-blown adrenal system – commonly missed by doctors. This can leave us exhausted for no reason, yet unable to unwind at night: caused by on-going emotional stress, ‘hidden’ infections (mine, was my gall bladder), diabetes, undealt-with abuse and abandonment… all these will eventually wear out our adrenals’ ‘fight-or-flight’ response. I’m currently seeking God for my cure, both physical and spiritual, as insurance doesn’t cover alternative medicine, and we don’t have thousands of $$ lying around.

    I use Melatonin almost nightly unless I’m already bone-tired. A number of my friends who have had bad dreams taking it, seem to have taken the capsules; I’ve always used the liquid and never had weird dreams on it, although I can’t imagine why there would be so much difference. Blood sugar issues also disturb sleep, so I try to have some yogurt or piece of fruit before bed. A cup of warm milk (contains tryptophan) w/ some vanilla or molasses (minerals!)can help too. Many of my friends are getting into essential oils w/ great success for all kinds of health problems; several of them help w/ sleep.

    All these sleep issues, just point up the need to get a handle on our health issues NOW while help is to be found. Natural alternatives are safer, usually less expensive, and easier to stockpile for future use than meds. Many can be grown in your herb garden, and dried for your stash. Sleep well tonight, everyone…

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