Life in the military means long hours and lost sleep.  Whether you’re stuck on a post or simply have to make mission, sleep is often relegated to the “luxury” category on your priority list, while things like security, accomplishing your objectives or making it to your destination hold the top spots.  Fatigue, however, can be a serious risk—so it’s important to manage your rest in a similar fashion to things like weapons maintenance: do it when you can, where you can, so it won’t cost you the mission when the time comes.

For many of us, that sounds an awful lot like parenting.

My little girl was born at 2:41am on Thanksgiving Day, after 46 hours of labor that left my wife utterly drained. Although I had it much easier than my warrior queen of a wife, I didn’t feel much like a spring chicken by the time she arrived either.  As those of you who already have kids know all too well, we thought it was the finish line, but of course, it was actually the starting gun.

Since then, sleeping has been sparse and light.  I refuse to let my wife suffer the hardship of breast-feeding alone, so we’re both up every two to three hours, as I change diapers and prepare a pillow palace for the two most important women in my life to nurse, and she runs the marathon that is nourishing our child.  The problem with all this love and excitement, of course, is that two sleep deprived adults need to avoid making the kinds of mistakes that might hurt our little bundle of joy.

In combat, the stakes are even higher.  If you’re tasked with manning a post and keeping your eye on the horizon for impending attacks or people planting IEDs for tomorrow’s convoys, being awake is far from enough.  The job requires vigilance, attention to detail, and the power of will to overcome complacency hours into an uneventful shift.  During those long nights with a rifle (or a baby) on your shoulder, maintaining situational awareness through the fog of fatigue is more than important: it may be the difference between life and death.  With that in mind, here are five methods I learned in the Corps to combat the negative effects of sleep deprivation, and they could easily be applied to other sets of sleepless circumstances:



This one seems like a no-brainer, but anyone that’s pounded three Red Bulls in a row (with or without vodka) can likely tell you that the secret to effective use of caffeine is managing your intake properly.  Too much too fast will leave you with nausea, abdominal cramping, and a general sense of misery to add to your exhaustion.