Sleep and Warfighters

Sleep impacts Warfighter performance and health, for better or for worse. Learn how to combat the effects of sleep loss on performance in this HPRC infographic.

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Sleep & Warfighters

Did you know? Sleep impacts your performance and your life.

  • Sleep need: Most people, including Warfighters, need 7 to 8 hours of sleep to function optimally. Less sleep equals lower performance.
  • Sleep debt: If you do not get 7 to 8 hours of sleep every 24 hours, you build up a sleep debt. The more debt you have, the worse your performance will be, and it will take longer to pay it off.
  • Deployed Warfighters report getting only about 6.5 hours of sleep per 24 hours while deployed.
  • Sleep loss: For some aspects of performance, losing 4 or more hours of sleep can be similar to driving while drunk.
  • Physical fitness: People who are fit and active tend to sleep better.
  • Brain: In order to recover and perform the complex mental operations needed for military success, your brain must have sleep.
  • Performance: Some of your mental performance relies heavily on sleep, such as planning ahead, solving problems, managing change, assessing risk, acting appropriately and decisively under pressure, and staying motivated.
  • Accidents: Lack of sleep can lead to accidents such as motor-vehicle crashes, injuries, and fatalities.
  • Weight: Lack of sleep is linked to unhealthy food choices and weight gain.
  • Relationships: Sleep loss can make it harder to accurately interpret emotions and relate to others.
  • After deployment: Some Warfighters report problems sleeping upon returning to the homefront.

Combating sleep debt

Remember the ideal countermeasure is to avoid accumulating a sleep debt in the first place!

Best strategies

  • Keep your sleep environment sleep-friendly. Decrease noise and light, keep a comfortable temperature, and don’t use electronics such as TVs, laptops, iPads, or mobile devices.
  • Pre-sleep wind-down: Start to wind down about one hour prior to sleep. Stop using electronics and start using sleep preparation techniques such as light reading or meditation.
  • Wake up at the same time every day, even on your days off.

Next best

Strategic naps: So long as you actually sleep, not just doze during a nap, you accumulate benefit and pay off your sleep debt. Naps of any duration are good. Sleep as long as you can, as often as you can, to avoid sleep debt. The known benefit of sleep far outweighs the small risk of impaired performance, or sleep inertia, that occurs 5 to 10 minutes upon wakening. Naps at any time of day or night are good, but it’s easiest to fall asleep and stay asleep for a nap at these 3 times of day:

  • Around your normal bedtime. For example, 2300 hours.
  • Around your normal wake-up time. For example, 0700 hours.
  • In the early afternoon. For example, 1300 to 1400 hours.

In a pinch

Caffeine: Though it does not replace sleep, caffeine is an effective tool to temporarily maintain mental performance when you can’t get enough sleep. Caffeine gum can minimize sleep inertia and can be used to maintain some aspects of cognitive performance during sleep deprivation. ATP 6–22.5, Chapter 2, Table two three gives specific guidance on using caffeine in these situations: night work, acute or 1 to 2 nights total, sleep deprivation, and restricted sleep.

Avoid these

  • Alcohol before bedtime may make you drowsy, but it actually impairs sleep, and increases sleep debt.
  • Excess caffeine promotes wakefulness and disrupts sleep. Stop caffeine at least 6 hours before bedtime. Avoid drinks containing caffeine in excess of guidance provided in ATP 6-22.5.
  • Sleep aids: Avoid over-the-counter sleep aids unless using them under the guidance of a sleep-specialty physician.

For more information on sleep optimization, visit the Human Performance Resource Center online at and click on Mental Fitness. HPRC logo.