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Sleep & Survive – what might be missing from your SHTF plan

Sleep & Survive – what might be missing from your SHTF plan

If there ever was a time to be serious about our survival plans, it’s now.

It’s also the time that will separate the smart prepper from those who like to share images of their new colorful throwing zombie ax on forums.

Facing the facts

Preparedness is not about flashy knives and money spent; it’s about calculating the odds and adjusting accordingly.

If the hurricanes and natural disasters that we’re facing did anything for the prepping community is waking us up to the reality. The reality is that when SHTF we’re far more likely to be challenged by nature itself than zombies.

This is where it gets real; this is where prepared men are separated from the boys with enough money to spend on tactical gear.

Back to basics – the essentials

We all know the good old rule of three – a person of average health can survive:

  • 3 min without air (or in icy water)
  • 3 days without water
  • 3 days without food

The 4th rule, the “3 hours in a harsh environment without proper shelter” – is still a subject of debate. No doubt that shelter belongs on the list of essentials, but what constitutes “harsh environment” and what makes a “proper shelter”.

Are we missing something?

The topic of sleep has always been somewhat of a vague area and most of the tips you’ll ever read come down to commonplace advice like “getting enough sleep in a survival situation is really important…”

There are two reasons we’re tiptoeing around the subject of sleep:

  • It’s not as “sexy” as, say, that new illuminated rifle scope that just hit the shelves
  • We don’t fully understand it

There’s no shame in not understanding it. Heck, the doctors and the scientists are yet to answer the basic questions about sleep….as basic as, “Why we need sleep in the first place.”

Not understanding something is not an excuse for not educating ourselves

It might be decades before we can fully understand why our bodies need sleep.

That’s not an excuse that will stop a smart prepper from learning everything about it. So let’s put the scopes, knives, and axes aside and tackle the “boring”, yet crucial, part of survival – Sleep.

For most of us, choosing the right sleep gear will be as far as we go

You might have your shelter and supplies ready & your BOB essentials packed with all the right stuff.

You took the time to do the research and choose the right sleeping pad or air mattress to go into the BOB and you feel like you have your bases covered. When it comes to sleep, choosing the best air mattress or pad is not where your preparation should end.

That airbed might be where you’ll sleep, but true preparation means digging deeper into the how you sleep when SHTF. It goes beyond reading reviews and choosing of the best air mattress or pad.

Why is sleep different than the other essentials?

There’s a reason why one of the most brutal torture techniques is keeping the subject awake. There are no documented cases of denying people food as a torture technique.

Let’s look at some basic science:

  • How long we can go without food is relative and it depends on our shape, age, health and the fat we have stored. For an average adult, the red line will be somewhere between 8 and 12 weeks. There are, however, outlier cases of people surviving without food for up to 25 weeks.
  • An average adult will last 3 days without water before the many effects of dehydration kick in. Your kidneys get in trouble, dry heaves set in, you get severe headaches because your brain starts to shrink…the list goes on and on.
  • Agrypnia (lack of sleep) is different. While there are cases of soldiers in battle lasting days without sleep, it’s not just a about how long can you go without sleep.

Lack of sleep affects everything else

In a survival situation, it’s not just about the numbers.

It’s about maintaining your shape, attention span, reaction time and perception. That’s the key point we’re trying to make here – two days without food and you’ll feel weak and hungry but it doesn’t compare to what two days without sleep can do.

Bottom line – lack of sleep will impair your ability to fight and secure the other essentials of survival.

Furthermore, there’s no scenario in which you stumble upon a flooded grocery store with untouched can of sleep on the shelves.

Let’s get specific

By this point, we’ve hopefully made our point about how paramount sleep is, so let us move on to some specific actionable tips.

DO NOT be deterred by the nitty-gritty “sciency” talk, the explanation of what you need to do will get a peg more complicated before it gets simple.

Monophasic vs. Polyphasic sleep

Everything you’ve ever been thought about sleep can be boiled down to “get your 7 or 8 hours.”

In most SHTF situations you’ll have little use of the crude rule. You’ll need to understand how sleep works and what you can do if you have to keep moving and can’t afford the 8 hours.

The 8-hour sleep culture (also known as Monophasic sleep) is adopted in most of the Western world, but it’s not the only way people get their ZZZs.

The alternative (Polyphasic sleep) is practiced all over the world

From Japan where they even have a word for short sleep pauses during the day (inemuri) to some parts of Africa where they don’t even recognize the concept of “bed time”, they just sleep whenever they feel tired.

Sleeping with a Gas Mask


Why “I’ll just take a nap” is not enough


If you are faced with a situation that doesn’t allow the 8-hours, you’ll have to shift to polyphasic sleep.

Polyphasic sleep is more than just winging it.

If you are reading this and thinking that we’re over thinking and that a “nap here and there is good enough of a plan”, let’s explain why it’s not.

Staying in shape means allowing your body to repair in full sleep cycles

While we sleep, our body and brain work tirelessly on repairing the damage to our cells and rebuild.

The key point is that it doesn’t all happen at the same time.

To repair your body & brain you need full sleep cycles

Let’s make it really simple – there are 4 sleep phases of a cycle. They are inseparable, but the two we’re interested here is Deep Sleep & REM Sleep.

Here’s why

Deep sleep is when our bodies are in full cell-reparation mode. The brain is idle but our body is in an overdrive – repairing damaged cells, replacing dead ones, re-growing muscle and bone and boosting our immune system.

REM sleep is when our brain “repairs” itself – it clears the neural pathways, shedding the unwanted information – basically, re-grouping to tackle reality again.

Lack of either of these two phases will severely interfere with your abilities – both physically and mentally.

What you can do about it

Get to know your body and plan accordingly.


An average sleep cycle lasts for about 90-120 minutes. You’ve probably heard people complaining about feeling more tired after a nap.


The most likely reason for that is that they woke up in the middle of the deep sleep phase – which is pretty much the worse that can happen.

Know your numbers

The length of a sleep phase differs from person to person. To have a plan of transition from monophasic to polyphasic sleep you’ll have to know how long YOUR sleep phase is.

It sounds complicated but it’s not – simply getting a cheap sleep tracker and using it for a few days will tell you all you need to know about the length of your sleep phases.

Doing the math

The first sleep cycle is generally the shortest (usually in the range of 80-100 minutes).

This is how long you should sleep if you have the time to complete one cycle.

The math gets simple – if your survival scenario allows for two sleep cycle you just add up the numbers.

For example – if you have the time for two cycles and you know that your first sleep cycle is 90 minutes and the rest are 110, you just adjust your schedule to the circumstances:


  • One sleep cycle – 90 minutes
  • Two sleep cycles – 200 minutes
  • Three sleep cycles – 310 minutesMan Sleeping in a Shelter

It gets easier as your body adjusts

If it sounds like doing math in a survival situation is not viable – the good new is that you won’t have to.

Just a few days of polyphasic sleep and your internal clock will adjust, you won’t need alarms and you’ll just naturally start waking up after completing a cycle.


If the situation allows it, craft a new sleep pattern – we’re creatures of habit. Plan a sleep pattern that works for you in the new circumstances and stick to it.

We’ve all heard stories about the unusual sleep patterns of successful people – like 3 hours of sleep and 6 hours of work.

Well, now you know the science behind it and how you can use it is an SHTF scenario.

Don’t confuse a power nap and a sleep cycle

You might be wondering how it all fits with the concept of power naps.

It’s fairly accurate to say that a power nap is the opposite of what we talked about above.

Here’s what we mean by that

The concept of polyphasic sleep relies on getting full sleep cycles, with deep sleep being especially important.

A power nap is about getting a burst of refreshing sleep WITHOUT getting to deep sleep.

How long should a power nap be?

In the analysis above we mentioned 4 sleep phases and skipped the first two (deep relaxation and light sleep) to get to the all-important deep sleep

& REM sleep.

Let’s address them here – the first two phases last about 20-30 minutes. After the half an hour after falling asleep, you’ll get into deep sleep. As we said, the last thing we want is being jolted awake during deep sleep.

Again, your sleep monitor will precisely show how long deep relaxation and light sleep last in your case.

That’s how long your power nap should be – long enough for your brain to get a refreshing boost and not long enough for you to get into deep sleep.

Staying awake in the face of a disaster doesn’t make you a hero, just as sleeping doesn’t make you weak

When fighting for survival of your loved ones, your paternal instincts will be in Defcon 1. You might feel that staying awake means you’re a good protector, a strong father and a husband.

Think about this – if a plane is in trouble, do they ask you to put on your own oxygen mask first because they prefer you to your child?


It’s because they need you focused and alert so that you can help those you’re protecting.

The same logic applies here – if you are focused and ready, you’ll be alert and prepared to protect your loved ones from whatever calamity is out there.

Stay smart & safe

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