Sleep is Essential to Survival

small_2953550Seems like these days we live in a 24/7 world – everyone has so much to do and not enough time to do it in. The only time we are “unproductive” is when we’re sleeping… or is it? There are thousands of studies on how the lack of sleep affects the human body, and these effects are compounded and more life threatening in a survival situation.

Sleep would be one of the last things on my mind when I’m trying to get from point A to point B in a crisis situation, but it can be one of the most critical parts of your survival.

Here are 4 reasons why you need to sleep while surviving:


1. Not enough sleep = poor judgment and memory. If you’re tired, your interpretation of what’s happening around you can be impaired which can result in you making the wrong choice. Making the wrong choice in a survival situation could be the difference between life and death. Being sleepy makes you less alert and aware as well as making it harder for you to concentrate – all of which make it harder to accurately assess your situation. Research also suggests that sleep is tied to memory in that the better sleep you get, the more your remember about that day – i.e. you figured out how to set that snare just right but forget over the next few days because you didn’t get enough sleep.

2. Sleepiness means slowed reaction time. Suppose you do overcome #1 above and come to the right conclusion in a certain situation, but you don’t take the appropriate action in enough time – you still could die or make your day a whole lot worse. Driving while tired is said to be the same as driving with a blood alcohol content over the legal limit. The ability to make the right decision in a split second will save your life – whether in your daily life or in the middle of your worst survival nightmare. Lack of sleep dramatically decreases that ability.

3. Lack of sleep is depressing. Researchers and doctors have found that depression and sleep loss are closely related – sleep loss intensifies the effects of depression, and depression can make it more difficult to sleep. Ask any survival expert, and they will tell you that the most important thing to have in a survival situation is the will to live. Without the will to live, you have all but completely given up. Depression is in direct opposition of the will to live – fight it!

4. Other physical effects of losing sleep. Your immune system isn’t as strong as it would be if you got the proper amount of sleep – your body will fight harder and longer against a simple cold, and without the proper medicine or knowledge of helpful plants, you could potentially die. Your muscles will ache more making every move painful. Depending on how much sleep you have lost and how your body reacts to it, you can also experience any of the following: confusion, hallucinations, headaches, styes, irritability, increased blood pressure, blackouts, etc. More long-term possible effects of chronic sleep loss are diabetes, heart disease, heart attack, fibromyalgia, heart failure, and stroke.

The more sleep deprived you are, the higher your risk of experiencing any of these symptoms; however, there is hope! The second you start sleeping you start to reverse many of these side effects of sleep loss.

Here’s some tips on how to keep up on sleep while you’re surviving:

1. Stay off the ground. Sleeping directly on the ground is never a good idea if you can avoid it. The ground will suck away your body heat and add to your discomfort. Even just piling up some leaves and/or needles or a sleeping mat is better than nothing. In a wet environment or one with a lot of ground dwelling critters that would love to crawl all over you, you can build a platform or carry along a small cot to elevate you off the ground and away from moisture and bugs. Another simpler and lighter concept is using a hammock. It won’t take up much space or add much weight in your BOB. The only downside is that you would have to be in an area with trees. You could even make your own hammock out of a tarp and 550 cord if those are already in your BOB.


2. Insulation. If you don’t have much time to gather resources and/or build a shelter, a sleeping bag could be a life saver. Just pull it out, tuck yourself in, and go to sleep. Being in the military, I prefer the mummy style sleeping bag (aka bivy or modular sleep system).  These come with a stuff sack, an outer water proof shell, a cool weather bag, and an extreme cold weather bag. They can all be snapped together – cool inside cold inside shell; cool inside shell; cold inside shell – or used separately if you so desire. The stuff sack can be hooked to the outside of your BOB to allow for more room inside the BOB itself. If you can’t afford the extra weight of a sleeping bag, other means of insulating yourself could be stuffing leaves/pine needles/cattail “cotton” into a heavy duty trash bag and curling up in that or stuffing them directly in between layers in your clothing.


3. Shelter. On a rainy/snowy night, getting a shelter over your head will be your first priority if you want to get any sleep. Whether you hide under a fallen down tree, tie up a tarp or trash bag, weave palm fronds together, or build your own igloo, having something to protect from the elements will always be one of your top priorities in a survival situation. There are plenty of great tents available if you choose to pack one. Personally, I don’t because I have other things that I have a higher priority on packing in my BOB – a tent could be the top priority for some people though. If you’re only packing a tent because you don’t know how to build a shelter, check out the SAS Revised Edition Survival Handbook to see how to build any shelter in any type of environment.

Getting thrown into your worst case scenario is not the time to try to catch up on some Z’s! In doing some research for this article, I realized that I could definitely use more sleep than I am getting. We stock up on stuff and pack BOBs in order to be ready for a disaster. Your body needs to be just as ready – staying in shape, keeping up with vaccines, and getting proper sleep among other things will all help to keep you physically and mentally ready for whatever comes your way.

Stay prepared – stay alive!

photo credit: TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³ via photopin cc

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