For a “macho” organization of gung-ho soldiers, our military can be surprisingly scientific about something like sleep deprivation. “Powering through it” has consequences. From A Growing Threat to Troops In Iraq: Sleep Deprivation:
For warriors operating in highly charged situations with weapons, trouble in processing cognitive information can lead to deadly miscalculations. Research shows that for every 24 hours that a person goes without sleep, about 25% of that person’s ability to effectively process such data is lost. This becomes especially critical for troop commanders or fighter pilots who must rapidly size up a situation and craft a response.
For now, military researchers say the best way to combat fatigue on the battlefield is the power nap. Two hours is optimal, but even 45 minutes has proven beneficial. This tends to work better for ground troops, who can operate in shifts and crash out on a mat. Caffeinated drinks also help improve alertness.
Sounds like college.
Pilots operating in cramped cockpits don’t have as much latitude. “There’s no coffeepot in there or place to stow stuff” like power bars or energy drinks, says Dr. Caldwell. “We tend to stay away from the herbal sort of products.”
Instead, prior to each mission they fly, pilots see a service physician who can dispense dextroamphetamines, a form of “speed.” Studies have shown that such drugs enable a sleep-deprived pilot to fly as well as a well-rested one, while those without a pharmacological boost often fell asleep at the controls. So far, Dr. Caldwell says, there is no clinical evidence that pilots taking speed are more prone to error, as was suggested after two American pilots who had used the drugs killed four Canadian soldiers accidentally in Afghanistan last year.
Again, sounds like college. OK, OK, not like my college experience — I stuck to soft drinks — but certainly nothing unusual for students in the 1960′s, when “pep pills” were considered fairly benign.
Early in this war, nonpilots made a push to get some of the “go pills” for themselves. “Everybody thought they were the magic answer to making guys work around the clock,” said a doctor at a Marine air base near the Iraqi border that is home to helicopter pilots. Ultimately, they were turned down.
I can see plenty of potential for use and abuse amongst ground troops. In many cases, I’m sure, both caffeine and amphetamines make you feel better now by putting you deeper and deeper into sleep debt — debt that you have to pay off sooner or later.