Effects of sleep deprivation with reference to military operations

Ann Acad Med Singap. 1997 Jan;26(1):88-93.


This review discusses the need for sleep, effects of sleep deprivation on behaviour and performance in the military, and sleep management recommendations to optimise combat effectiveness. Most people, regardless of sex or race, prefer 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. Sleeping during the day is less recuperative. Continuous sleep is more effective than multiple short naps-even when the total hours for naps is more. Ten to 20 minute naps are useful when continuous sleep is not possible. Sleep inertia is the 5 to 30 minute period of sluggishness after awakening and important military tasks should be avoided. Previously, continuous work episodes (CWEs) duration was restricted by limited night vision, unreliable equipment and reduced endurance of military personnel. With improved technology, CWEs are now restricted primarily by endurance which is affected by sleep deprivation. This was one of the experiences noted in recent conflicts (e.g. Desert Storm) by personnel in the air force, army and navy. Since there will be changes in operational requirements, several work-rest-sleep plans must be prepared. Sleeping the preferred 7 to 8 hours per 24 hours the week before an operation may help prepare for optimal performance. Personnel should be familiarised with conditions under which they may sleep. During combat, sleep management should ideally avoid situations where all personnel are exhausted at the same time. As sleep debt accumulates, a person's mood, motivation, attention, alertness, short-term memory, ability to complete routines, task performance (errors of omission more than errors of commission) and physical performance will become more negatively affected. Counter measures must then be taken (e.g. time for sleep or naps, changing routines or rotating jobs). Drugs like caffeine and amphetamine can help personnel stay awake. However, they may also keep them awake when they need to sleep- and on awakening, they could suffer from "hang-overs" and are less efficient. Sleep lost need not be replaced hour-for-hour. Therefore, after operations, personnel need continuous sleep for only 10 to 12 hours as longer sleep increases sleep inertia and delays getting back to normal schedules.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Military Personnel*
  • Sleep Deprivation / physiology*
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / diagnosis
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / etiology
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / therapy*
  • Warfare*