Purpose: Navy SEALs (sea, air, land) are elite special warfare units that conduct unconventional warfare primarily in marine environments. Marksmanship accuracy and sighting time were quantified with 62 male trainees during Navy SEAL Hell Week, which involves the combined stress of sleep loss, operational combat scenarios, and cold-wet environmental conditions. Caffeine was administered to minimize deficits due to sleep deprivation.
Methods: Volunteers dry-fired a disabled rifle equipped with a laser-based marksmanship simulator system to measure shooting speed and accuracy. The target was a 2.3-cm diameter circle at a distance of 5 m, simulating a 46 cm target at a distance of 50 m. Marksmanship was assessed prior to training, and at 73 and 80 h into Hell Week. Volunteers were randomly assigned to 1 of 4 treatments: 100, 200, or 300 mg of caffeine or a placebo. Dosing occurred 72 h after training commenced.
Results: The combined effects of almost 73 h of total sleep deprivation and operational and environmental stress degraded all marksmanship accuracy measures (p < 0.05) as shown by the 37.5% increase in percent of targets missed, 38% increase in distance from center of mass of the target, and the 235% increase in shot group tightness. Sighting time increased by 53% or 3.1 s after 73 h of sleep deprivation (p < 0.05). Sighting time was significantly faster in sleep deprived individuals after taking 200 or 300 mg of caffeine compared with placebo or 100 mg of caffeine. No differences in accuracy measures between caffeine treatment groups were evident at any test period.
Conclusion: During periods of sleep deprivation combined with other stressors, the use of 200 or 300 mg of caffeine enabled SEAL trainees to sight the target and pull the trigger faster without compromising shooting accuracy.