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Old 10-15-2009   #1
Schmedlap
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Default Cumulative impact of low calorie intake and sleep deficit in combat

In a recent blog post, Bernard Finel takes the military, and government in general, to task for "a weird macho culture" where there is an assumption that "working more hours inherently boosts productivity." I agree that this assumption is not wise, but where I part ways with Bernard is where he critiques McChrystal's now well-known routine of 4 or 5 hours of sleep, lots of running, and one meal per day. He suggests that the impact of such a regimen may be on par with the impairment brought about by small quantities of alcohol.

He specifically states: "We essentially have a general running the war in Afghanistan probably with the impairment level of someone with 2-3 beers in him 24/7, actually worse since sleep deprivation is cumulative."

I disagree with this. My comment is excerpted below...
Quote:
When you are this immersed in something that you are obsessed with, fatigue becomes less of a factor in your ability to focus... If you legitimately think his routine is too much, I’d say there are thousands of other Officers pushing themselves much harder and, in hindsight, I don’t think it affected anyone’s ability to function.
He doesn't seem to agree. Just curious what the thoughts are from the council. I'm guessing that many here have had similar experiences and that many had experiences more demanding than mine.

We have all had the occasional, abnormal experience - whether in Ranger School, in combat, or in some other odd circumstance - where we knew that we had not had enough sleep and we were pushing ourselves beyond a reasonable limit, but sleeping simply was not an option. I am not asking about extreme, short bursts of no sleep, no food, etc. I am curious about the long-term, cumulative effect of less sleep, less food, more strenuous activity, and heightened mental activity.

Do any of you look back upon your deployments and think, "boy, I thought I was thinking straight, but in hindsight, I was way too tired."

I recall extended periods (weeks/months) of getting no more than a few hours of sleep per night - often going for days without sleep. The only time that it impacted me, imo, was when I was doing something that I absolutely hated and had no interest in - like reviewing the document control register or inspecting the always-substandard 5988E's that my crews would pencil-whip. If it was a tactical task, my head was in the game - regardless of the cumulated months of less sleep, less food, etc.

Thoughts? Comments?

Just to be clear, it is optional to begin your comments with "no sh--, there I was..."

Last edited by Schmedlap; 10-15-2009 at 10:18 PM.
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Old 10-15-2009   #2
Fuchs
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He should be judged by performance, not by the exploitation of his potential.


On the performance part; I think it's a terrible example. Leaders should lead by example, and sleep deprivation and unhealthy eating habits are terrible examples.
Not a single captain should have the opportunity to justify excessive strains by pointing at the unhealthy lifestyle of the theater commander.
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Old 10-15-2009   #3
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On the performance part; I think it's a terrible example. Leaders should lead by example, and sleep deprivation and unhealthy eating habits are terrible examples.
Agreed, but is 4 or 5 hours "deprivation?" The Army only owes each Soldier 4 hours. At least that is what I was taught. And is his diet "unhealthy?" It looked like he was eating some pretty good food when I saw him chowing down on CBS. It was one meal, but I didn't hear a calorie count or any mention of inadequate nutritional value.
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Old 10-15-2009   #4
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Being a thin mid-50s aged male is something I can speak to from current experience. I find I can do quite a lot now with only one meal a day, and that includes 1.5 to 2 hours of quite hard exercise (save the wisecracks). I don't lose weight and don't feel weak nor do I think it affects my mental acuity (save those wisecracks too). That one meal is supplemented by eating little things here and there during the day, equal to less than an additional meal.

This I attribute to the normal effects of aging, one of which seems to be a reduced metabolism. Chicks don't dig me no more but I'm cheaper to feed.

As far as his need for such a short amount of sleep, that I would guess is just
an individual variation in sleep habit and need.

I do have very extensive experience with fatigue and how it affects performance, all who fly for a living do. Microsleeps on a tight instrument approach in bad weather, especially when you know it is happening and just can't get yourself to care much because you are so damn tired, are a bit spooky. Fatigue absolutely does affect your performance and there is not much you can do about it except get some sleep. The only effective way I have found to partially compensate is to recognize the symptoms and intentionally give myself greater leeway and not give myself greater challenges than my reduced capability can handle. Fatigue is an extremely serious thing.
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Old 10-15-2009   #5
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I do want a clarify a point. I am quite sure that because of effective training, it is possible for people to respond appropriately to "expected" stimuli even when sleep deprived. I mean, that is the point of training.

But no one is trained to be a theater commander, especially in a complex enviroment like COIN. He needs to be able to constantly process new information and analyze it thoroughly.

Also... I gotta say, in every clip and interview I see of him, he looks like an automaton. Walking around from village to village saying, "what do you need? What can I give you?" and responding, "We're working on it, but it takes times" to every response.

In neither the 60 Minutes piece nor the NYT Magazine essay does it seem like he's actually processing much information. Just seems like he's on autopilot. I don't know him. Everyone I know who does says he's sharp as a tack, etc.
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Old 10-16-2009   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Schmedlap View Post
Agreed, but is 4 or 5 hours "deprivation?" The Army only owes each Soldier 4 hours. At least that is what I was taught. And is his diet "unhealthy?" It looked like he was eating some pretty good food when I saw him chowing down on CBS. It was one meal, but I didn't hear a calorie count or any mention of inadequate nutritional value.
I think what Army leaders need to remember is that everyone's body has different sleep and nutritional requirements. GEN McChrystal may only require 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night. I know lots of people who only sleep that much on a regular basis and suffer no ill effects. Personally, I need 8.5 hours of sleep per night in order to not feel like garbage all day. 4 to 5 hours would make me an angry zombie.

Once, we were up for nearly 48 hours due to a little situation we got into. Around hour 44, I decided I had figured out a solution, walked up to my team leader, and proceded to explain my brilliant plan. What came out of my mouth was a bunch of nonsense, as I gathered from the way his face contorted in a mixture of confusion and anger, so rather than try to explain, I just walked away.

While many in the military would be relatively unaffected by a stretch of two or three days without sleep, I am definitely not one of them.
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Old 10-16-2009   #7
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I had real old Platoon Sergeant tell all a GI needs is a cigarette and cup of Coffey now and then and everything will be fine. Hmmmm things have changed
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Old 10-16-2009   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bernard Finel View Post
I do want a clarify a point. I am quite sure that because of effective training, it is possible for people to respond appropriately to "expected" stimuli even when sleep deprived. I mean, that is the point of training.
This is absolutely not true. You can not train people to function effectively when sleep deprived. They may perform effectively. They may not. It is the luck of the draw. What you can do is train them to recognize this fact, to avoid fatigue to the extent they can and know when they are fatigued and act accordingly. This is a huge thing in aviation because of all the smoking wreckage containing the cinders of tired pilots.
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Old 10-16-2009   #9
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McChrystal's or anyone elses eating and sleeping habits are not among those few things. People are different, all have different food and sleep needs and all this foolishness about sleep deprivation is true but not an issue and is very much individual condition, experience, practice and metabolism related.

Carl is right that exhaustion kills and Intel Trooper is correct in noting that about 40 straight hours gets you to the point of non compos -- everyone's heard about Ranger students talking to trees...

Fuchs may be correct in stating that McChrystal is setting a bad example -- but I'm quite sure there are hundreds of 'leaders' over there setting far worse examples on many counts. A guy who sleeps little, doesn't overeat is probably one of the most benign bad examples I've run across. Not to mention that everyone in combat gets too little sleep and eats poorly --sort of goes with the territory.

That said, combat forces you to do without sleep at all levels from PVT to GEN; the body and mind adapt as best they can. Some do it well, some less so. It's a non-issue. Everyone adapts as well as possible and most get to the point where they can go 24-30 hours or so at a stretch without too much stress and can do that several times over the period of a week or so before they need an overnight sleep. It usually works out as things cycle.

Thus, to Schmedlap's question
Quote:
Do any of you look back upon your deployments and think, "boy, I thought I was thinking straight, but in hindsight, I was way too tired."
my answer is Sure, several times in all of them. Not much could have been done about them, though. Until we do combat as shift work (not unthinkable...) we're going to have that problem but as Slap says:
Quote:
"...all a GI needs is a cigarette and cup of Coffey now and then and everything will be fine."
That's still true. Unfortunate, not ideal, not even marginally good -- but then war is unfortunate and not an ideal situation and there's nothing good about it...

As for McChrystal and the automaton bit; Generals are people. People vary. Everyone doesn't make useless chit chat or idle comments answering inane questions at length without saying anything of substance (thank goodness!). Creighton Abrams was one of our better products, probably with Ridgeway the best post WW II type and he was not a chatterer -- his best line was "Generals should be noted for their silences."

Note lengthy answer with little substance.
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Old 10-16-2009   #10
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Something is badly wrong in his staff if a theater commander needs to work for more than 60 hrs a week.
He's the guy who is supposed to be shielded from micromanagement and administration annoyances in order to free up his mind for thought.


Eating only once per day is easily possible, but it's a really bad idea for performance, especially mental performance. His brain is only well-supplied a third or quarter of the day and is running on low supply the remainder of the day.
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Old 10-16-2009   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fuchs View Post
Something is badly wrong in his staff if a theater commander needs to work for more than 60 hrs a week.
Needs to and does are different things...
Quote:
He's the guy who is supposed to be shielded from micromanagement and administration annoyances in order to free up his mind for thought.
Totally agree. Recall however that survey after survey says Americans put in more hours at work than do most other nations in all fields of endeavor. It's a national affliction...

We have thus developed a military culture of micromanagement and our Generals, unfortunately, are gauged not on their strategic strengths and tactical and technical competence (though most are at least acceptable in those area; a few are quite sharp) but on how well they micromanage. They do tend to get too far down in the weeds. That's a bit on the simplistic side but not by much...
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Old 10-16-2009   #12
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I used to OPD this ARMOR Article from 1994 - still truthful to me. It highlights the scientific effects of sleep deprivation and correlates it with some historical battles where the mental exhaustion of the commander affected the outcome.

I'm someone that knows I need 7-8h sleep for best functionality.

Quote:
Originally Posted by "Rest for the Weary" by Captain Patrick Chaisson

As mentioned before, sleep depriva-
tion takes its heaviest toll on the
mind’s ability to process and evaluate
information. Those most affected by
sleep deficiency, then, are soldiers
who think for a living
— fire direc-
tion center crews, radar operators,
leaders at all levels.
and ...

Quote:
Maintaining the Initiative
Effective sleep management is a
combat multiplier. A commander who
can apply unrelenting pressure to a
weary foe will have the advantage.
Well-rested, mentally alert soldiers
fight better than troops who are ex-
hausted. Sleep management begins
with command emphasis — leaders
must set the example!
Those who regularly deny them-
selves sleep in misguided attempts to
prove their endurance will fail. The
smart field leader recognizes his limi-
tations and those of his men. Tech-
niques such as those described above
will allow our maneuver forces to
maintain the initiative even after
weeks and months of intensive com-
bat. In conclusion, remember that the
ultimate objective of sleep manage-
ment is to let us fight smarter so we
can fight harder.
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Old 10-16-2009   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by slapout9 View Post
I had real old Platoon Sergeant tell all a GI needs is a cigarette and cup of Coffey now and then and everything will be fine. Hmmmm things have changed
Lack of sleep cann affect your spellin an stuff two
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Old 10-16-2009   #14
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Finel's right about the macho culture. How many senior NCOs and Officers do you know that stay at work just to stay. For what? They aren't working. It's so stupid. It's the same with the sleep thing. I knew a Major that was always the last out of the TOC at night and the first one there in the morning. He probably slept 4 hours or less. And you know what? He was an asshole all the time and didn't make very good decisions, nor could he remember anyone's callsign.

McChrystal is the commanding general. He could get 6 or 7 hours of sleep. Why doesn't he? Is that two more hours he is awake going to defeat AQ or the Taliban? No. It's a silly culture the "zero-defect" folks created in the Army to judge performance. Lame.

One meal a day? Does he smoke or dip? Then I would understand. If I can have some snuff, then I can operate off of one meal a day. Well, I need coffee too.

Looks like you are right, Slap.
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Old 10-16-2009   #15
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We are better than we used to be at this but we still have a way to go...
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Old 10-16-2009   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jkm_101_fso View Post
Finel's right about the macho culture. How many senior NCOs and Officers do you know that stay at work just to stay. For what? They aren't working. It's so stupid. It's the same with the sleep thing. I knew a Major that was always the last out of the TOC at night and the first one there in the morning. He probably slept 4 hours or less. And you know what? He was an asshole all the time and didn't make very good decisions, nor could he remember anyone's callsign.

McChrystal is the commanding general. He could get 6 or 7 hours of sleep. Why doesn't he? Is that two more hours he is awake going to defeat AQ or the Taliban? No. It's a silly culture the "zero-defect" folks created in the Army to judge performance. Lame.

One meal a day? Does he smoke or dip? Then I would understand. If I can have some snuff, then I can operate off of one meal a day. Well, I need coffee too.

Looks like you are right, Slap.
McChrystal is a very highly accomplished, fit, middle aged man. I think he knows exactly what he, as an individual, needs to function properly; how much sleep, how much food. If he only sleeps so much and eats so much per day, I suspect he isn't doing that for show, but because that is all he requires.

Now, if he expected all his people to do the same that is foolish and he could be faulted for that. If he observed his people imitating him and didn't tell them to tailor their actions to their personal needs, he could be faulted for that too. I have no idea if he does either of those things.

This comment is about McChrystal's habits only. As far as the culture goes, I defer to you guys with the experience.
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Old 10-16-2009   #17
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Here is a link to something called the Fatigue Avoidance Scheduling Tool-FAST.
It is a computer program that displays the relation between sleep, or lack thereof, and performance. It is meant to help schedule activities when those activities occur at odd hours or for long durations. The Air Force uses it I believe. It is quite illuminating to plug in the numbers and see how low the level of performance is after not getting enough sleep. I think it quite good.

http://novasci.ms11.net/
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Old 10-16-2009   #18
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I think there is a very significant mental component to this stuff that is not accounted for in the equations and rules of thumb.

If I am doing something that I am interested in, then I can get completely immersed in it and lose track of time. There were occasions on deployments where our optempo increased to the point where I was continuously busy and stayed awake for days on end - not because I was trying to impress anyone, but because I had so much stuff to do, wanted to get it all done, lost track of time, and then suddenly realized that I was tired and it dawned on me that I hadn't slept in days. On the other hand, when I was a first year law student, I could have gotten 12 hours of sleep and still fallen asleep after 15 minutes of listening to my Contracts professor ramble on about the uniform commercial code.
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Old 10-16-2009   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Schmedlap View Post
I think there is a very significant mental component to this stuff that is not accounted for in the equations and rules of thumb.
That may be true for certain types of activities and certain people. I've heard tales of programmers who can stay up for days as you did on the op.

For other types of activities, flying for example, no matter how interested you are in not crashing, there is nothing, nothing, that can make up for the lack of sleep.
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Old 10-16-2009   #20
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I'm going a little off topic, but they say (and who is "they," anyway ) that sleep deprived drivers are as dangerous as drunk drivers.

And one of the leading groups of sleep deprived drivers (perhaps second after truckdrivers) is.....cops.

I've never seen a study on this, and admittedly it's the stuff of patrol room legend, but it does sound reasonable.
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