The use of stimulants to keep troops awake is becoming increasingly common. But while these drugs will keep you awake, they dont preserve your cognitive ability or judgment. In the field, its been found that if troops are using stimulants to keep awake, the incidence of friendly fire incidents goes up, as a result of reduced perception and judgment combined with an increased impulse to act. The ability to determine friend from foe and right from wrong can disappear entirely in as little as 24 hours without sleep. Muscle memory, however, does not degrade so quickly. A study of Special Operations personnel has determined that their ability to hit targets does not diminish much even after 60 hours without sleep. However, after only about 24 hours without sleep the troops totally lost the ability to distinguish innocent from foe. Despite this, they killed every target that came into view. Although mileage may vary, for most people getting less than six hours sleep in 24 hours reduces cognitive abilities by about 15-percent. Try that for four days and youll be down about 70-percent. Recovery of full cognitive abilities can take several days of proper sleep (7-8 hours).
In addition to being a very serious problem for troops in the field, loss of sleep can seriously impede the decision-making abilities of commanders. In an age of global 24/7 operations, staff and senior personnel ought to be aware of the potential deleterious effects of lack of sleep on their ability to take an effective part in activities such as conference calls or video-teleconferences.