Sleep, Sleep Deprivation, and Human Performance in Continuous Operations

COL Gregory Belenky
Director, Division of Neuropsychiatry
Walter Reed Army Institute of Research
United States Army Medical Research and Materiel Command


The combat/operational environment is demanding both physically and mentally. Soldiers, to be effective, must grasp complex, rapidly evolving, and often ambiguous situations. Individual failure translates into unit failure, wounded and dead, and for the survivors the possibility of long term physical and mental disability. Self-care, ranging from changing one's socks, through ensuring that one gets adequate amounts of sleep to participating in after-action reconstructive debriefings after a difficult operation, helps sustain individual - and hence unit - effectiveness in operational settings, reduces casualties, and increases the likelihood of a good long-term outcome for all unit personnel. In the area of self-care, best viewed as a subset of operational planning, commanders are responsible for their own self-care, for setting a good example for others, and for enforcing good self-care in subordinates when necessary.

Many factors affect individual and unit effectiveness in combat and other operational settings. These factors include: