How to handle sleep deprivation, according to a Navy SEAL

Everybody always says the same thing when you announce you’re expecting: “Better catch up on your rest!” Or, “Sleep in while you still can!” Or even worse, “I’m your carefree single friend who stays out until two AM and then goes to brunch!” All of them also think they’re sharing a secret, as if they’re frontline soldiers watching new recruits get rotated to the front. These people are incredibly annoying. Or maybe they’re not. Who knows, you’re in a groggy, sleep-deprived haze.

Related: What you need to know about the Navy SEAL Trump picked for his cabinet

How you deal with sleep deprivation defines your first years as a parent. If there’s anyone who knows a thing or two about propping up sagging eyelids, it’s John McGuire. A Former Navy SEAL, he not only survived Hell Week — that notorious 5-day suffer-fest in where aspiring SEALs are permitted a total of only four hours of sleep — but also the years of sleep deprivation that come with being a father of five. McGuire, who’s also an in-demand motivational speaker and founder of the SEAL Team Physical Training program, offered some battle-tested strategies on how to make it through the ultimate Hell Week. Or as you call it, “having a newborn.”

Get Your Head Right

It doesn’t matter if it’s a live SEAL team operation or an average day with a baby, the most powerful tactic is keeping your wits about you. “You can’t lose your focus or discipline,” McGuire says. In other words, the first step is to simply believe you have what it takes best the challenge ahead. “Self-doubt destroys more dreams than failure ever has.” This applies to CEOs, heads of households, and operatives who don’t exist undertaking missions that never happened taking out targets whose the Pentagon will not confirm.

U.S. Navy photo

U.S. Navy photo

Teamwork Makes The Lack Of Sleep Work

“In the field, lack of communication can get someone killed,” says McGuire. And while you might not be facing the same stress during a midnight diaper blowout as you would canvassing for an IED, the same rules apply: remain calm and work as a team. Tempers will flare, but the last thing that you want, per McGuire, is for negativity to seep through.

One way to prevent this? Remind yourself: I didn’t get a lot of sleep but I love my family, so I’m going to really watch what I say. At least that’s what McGuire says. And when communicating, be mindful of your current sleep-deprived state: “If you are, you’ll be more likely say something along the lines of, ‘Hey, I’m not feeling myself because I didn’t get enough sleep,’” he says.

Put The Oxygen Mask On Yourself First

The more you can schedule your life – and, in particular, exercise – the better, says McGuire. And this is certainly a tactic that’s important with a newborn in the house. “It’s like on an airplane: You need to place the oxygen mask on yourself first before you can put one on your kid.” Exercise reduces stress, helps you sleep better, and get the endorphins pumping. “You can hold your baby and do squats if you want,” he says. “It’s not as much about the squats as making sure you exercise and clear the mind.” Did your hear that, maggot!?

U.S. Navy SEAL candidates from class 284 participate in Hell Week at the Naval Special Warfare Center at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado in San Diego, California. U.S. Navy photo

U.S. Navy SEAL candidates from class 284 participate in Hell Week at the Naval Special Warfare Center at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado in San Diego, California. U.S. Navy photo

Don’t Try To Be A No-Sleep Hero

McGuire has heard people say that taking naps longer than 20 minutes will make you more tired than before you nap. Tell that to a SEAL (or a new dad). McGuire has seen guys sleep on wood pallets on an airplane flying through lightning and turbulence. He once saw a guy fall asleep standing up. The point is, sleep when you can, wherever you can, for as long you can. “Sleep is like water: you need it when you need it.”

Know Your Limits

Lack of proper sleep effects leads to more than under-eye bags: your patience plummets, you’re more likely to gorge on unhealthy foods, and, well, you’re kind of a dummy. So pay attention to what you shouldn’t do as much as what you should. “A good leader makes decisions to improve things, not make them worse,” says McGuire. “If you’re in bad shape, you could fall asleep at the wheel, you can harm your child. You’ve got to take care of yourself.”

Students in Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL class 279 participate in a surf passage exercise during the first phase of training at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado. Surf passage is one of many physically strenuous exercises that BUD/S class 279 will take part in during the seven weeks of first phase. The Navy SEALs are the maritime component of U.S. Special Forces and are trained to conduct a variety of operations from the sea, air and land. U.S. Navy photo by Kyle Gahlau

Students in Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL class 279 participate in a surf passage exercise during the first phase of training at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado. Surf passage is one of many physically strenuous exercises that BUD/S class 279 will take part in during the seven weeks of first phase. The Navy SEALs are the maritime component of U.S. Special Forces and are trained to conduct a variety of operations from the sea, air and land. U.S. Navy photo by Kyle Gahlau

Embrace The Insanity

It would be cute if this next sentiment came from training, but it’s probably more a function of McGuire the Dad than McGuire the SEAL: Embrace the challenge because it won’t last long. Even McGuire’s brood of five, which at some point may have seemed they may never grow up, have. “You learn a lot about people and yourself through your children,” he says. “Have lots of adventures. Take lots of pictures and give lots of hugs,” he says. It won’t last forever — and you’ll have plenty of time to sleep when it’s over.

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