Sleep Deprivation Countermeasures

LAST UPDATED: October 23, 2017
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How to prepare for sleep deprivation

Soldiers who routinely get 5–6 hours of sleep perform much like a person with a blood alcohol content of 0.08. After just one week of sleeping five hours or less each night, a man’s testosterone levels drop as if he’s aged about 11 years. Testosterone fuels muscle and impacts decision-making abilities. Lapses in focus from sleep deprivation can result in accidents or injury. Alterations in mood affect our ability to acquire new information and subsequently to remember that information. Given the Army’s 24/7 operations, particularly during sustained or continuous operations, what is a leader or Soldier to do?

To achieve maximum sleep in a continuous operating environment there are several strategies that can be used to counter the effects of sleep deprivation.

Sleep banking

Up to 2 weeks prior to operations or the start of mission, Soldiers can pay down their sleep debt AND bank sleep by getting 8 or more hours of sleep. This will help to start the mission with a full bank.

Using naps

  • Research has shown that banking sleep slows the decline in performance and speeds sleep recovery.
  • Use naps to achieve your 7–8 hours of sleep every 24 hours.
  • A nap will improve alertness and performance. It also reduces mistakes and accidents.
  • Sleep inertia (grogginess upon awakening) is almost NEVER a problem for most people and is NOT a good reason to avoid napping.
  • If immediate responsiveness is required upon awakening, caffeine gum can be used immediately upon awakening to more rapidly restore performance.
  • Only use naps to achieve 7–8 hours of sleep every 24 hours, otherwise it may disrupt your nightly sleep.
  • In sustained or continuous operations, GET AS MUCH SLEEP AS POSSIBLE in as large chunks of time as operations or mission allows.
  • Teens and adults may use naps to counter those times when sleep debt was incurred and to ensure maximum alertness.

Using caffeine

Caffeine is found to have positive effects on alertness, observation, and physical performance.

  • Caffeine is the most widely used stimulant in the world and it has a proven track record. After taking in caffeine, it peaks in the blood after 1 hour, although if gum is used, caffeine peak time can be shortened.
  • You can order caffeine gum through the Army’s supply system (NSN 8925015301219 Stay Alert Energy Caffeine Gum). One stick contains approximately 200 mg of caffeine. Use the gum according to the dosing schedule. NOTE: Caffeine use is most effective when there is no sleep debt.
  • Caffeine is found in a wide variety of food items, so it is important to monitor caffeine intake to maximize your ability to sleep.
  • Caffeine does NOT replace sleep. Only sleep can replace sleep.
  • Caffeine doses ranging from 200–400 mg is shown to be effective and is often utilized to sustain performance in the context of sleep deprivation, sedation, and sleep restriction. Up to 500 mg of caffeine can be found in commercially available 16-oz servings of brewed coffee. NOTE: Monitor caffeine intake to maximize your ability to sleep.

Managing sleep countermeasures

Countermeasures such as energy drinks, soda, supplements, and coffee can only provide so much stimulation and should be used in moderation. Over use or misuse of these countermeasures will ultimately have a negative impact your performance and your sleep.

Managing naps

Naps should be used when you are not able to get 7–8 hours of sleep per 24 hours. Typically these are situations with extended wakefulness or where sleep is restricted.

Managing caffeine

It is highly recommended to not have caffeine 6 hours before bed time. “Sleep is ammo for the brain” and it is important to maximize the quality and quantity of sleep that can be obtained. It is equally important to understand that the effects of caffeine are reduced if it is over used.

Caffeine timing
Conditions Caffeine Dose and Timing
Sustained Operations (no sleep) 200 mg @ 0000
200 mg again @ 0400 and 0800 h, if needed
Use during daytime (1200, 1600) only if needed
Night Operations with Daytime Sleep 200 mg @ start of night shift
200 mg again 4 hours later
Last dose: at least 6 hours away from sleep period
Restricted Sleep (6 or fewer hours of sleep) 200 mg upon awakening
200 mg again 4 hours later
No caffeine within 6 hours of lights out

If you notice any of the following, you may need to lower you daily caffeine intake.

  • Problems falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Stomach upset
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Muscle tremors
  • Jitteriness

Using caffeine to counteract sleep deprivation can create an unwelcomed cycle. For example, you may drink caffeinated beverages because you have trouble staying awake during the day, but the caffeine actually could disrupt your sleep (and create more sleep debt). Check to see if any foods or beverages you consume contain caffeine—many products that contain caffeine do not list exactly how much caffeine they contain.

Caffeine content of popular products
Amount of Caffeine Product
50 mg 1 16-oz. bottle of Coke®
60 mg 1 squirt (1/2 tsp) MiO® Energy Water Enhancer
60 mg 1 16-oz. bottle of Diet Coke®
80 mg 1 8.3-oz. can of RedBull®
100 mg 1 piece of Stay Alert® chewing gum
160 mg 1 Monster® Energy Drink
200 mg 1 tablet of NoDoz®
330 mg 1 16-oz. Starbucks PikePlace® Roast coffee

Caution: High doses of caffeine from (caffeine-containing) beverages have led to the doubling of caffeine-related emergency room visits from 2007–11.

NOTE: Use of trademarked name(s) does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Army but is intended only to assist in identification of specific products.

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