There are a lot of jobs in which some level of sleep deprivation is a requirement, but very few in which getting drunk is authorized– let alone encouraged. The military is one of those careers in which working sleep deprived is just another part of the job. As far as your brain is concerned, being sleep deprived or being drunk are basically the same thing.
You may want to think twice about intentionally skipping an opportunity to catch some z’s after you check out some of these crazy studies that show the similarities between a drunk brain and a tired brain.
Gotta get those Zzz’s wherever and whenever.(Photo by Robert Timmons)
The way the science adds up
Sometimes scientists have all the fun. This first study I want to bring up had two groups; group A got drunk, and group B got sleep deprived.
One of those groups clearly had better luck. Imagine if you volunteered to be a subject in a scientific study and they started pushing drinks on you…That’s way better than getting injected with some mystery substance. Sign me up for that study! On the other hand, being forced to stay up for 20 hours without sleep sounds miserable, especially if you’re just sitting in some lab somewhere.
The study in question compared the drunk people, with a BAC of .08 (the legal driving limit), to the sleepless people who were awake for 19 hours, in a memory test. Both groups performed equally as poorly on the test. End of story. This whole study was put together to prove that being sleep deprived makes you as dumb as getting legally drunk.
Grade “A” napping time…in transit.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Jordan Castelan)
When it comes to driving
In another study, the following four groups were compared in a driving simulator:
- 8 hours of sleep
- 4 hours of sleep
- 8 hours of sleep and legally drunk
- 4 hours of sleep and legally drunk
The sober group that got only four hours of sleep did as poorly as the group that was legally drunk but well-rested–which makes sense considering the results of the above study.
The crazy part of this study though is that the group that had only 4 hours of sleep and was legally drunk did way worse than predicted. It was expected that this group would have about 12 times as many driving errors as the well-rested group.
They had almost 30 times as many errors. That’s more than twice as bad as predicted.
This soldier deserves an award for being able to sleep with an energy drink flowing through his veins.
(Photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua Garcia)
Being loaded with alcohol and sleep-deprived is pretty common among both service members and college kids, two groups that I clearly remember being a part of. I had NROTC unit PT on Tuesday mornings at 0630 in my senior year of college, then class pretty much all day until about 1700. I would also try to get in an actual training session, since PT was usually some nonsense. Then from 2200 until at least 0100 would be ‘Dollar Drinks’ at the bar I frequented.
By the end of the night, I would be up for 19 hours with at least 19 bucks worth of dollar drinks in my tummy.
Thankfully, I have grown and haven’t had a day and night like that in a while…
Leave it to service members to fall asleep anywhere but in their racks at the end of the day.
(Photo by Lt. Col. John Hall)
Normal sleep deprivation
But all those nights add up. After just ten days with only seven hours of sleep, the brain is as dysfunctional as if you went 24 hours without sleep.
To think that getting just one hour too few of sleep is going to make you dumber is nuts. But that’s what Dr. Matthew Walker has shown in his book Why We Sleep. So it’s pretty obvious that staying up late one night is going to impact your judgment.
You know how if you ask a drunk person if they are okay to drive, they almost always say yes? It’s not totally their fault–their judgment is impacted by the alcohol. They are literally incapable of accurately measuring how impaired they are, because the part of their brain that measures capability is drunk too. Take their keys.
Shhhh he’s restoring some brain function
(1st Lt. Benjamin Haulenbeek)
It’s the same with sleep-deprived people. If you are chronically sleep deprived, the part of your brain that measures capability is also sleep deprived.
So when you’re asked a question like…”Is this the best you could have done?” or “What in the Sam hell were you thinking!?” you may get indignant that your judgment is being questioned. You shouldn’t though; you are actually a lesser version of yourself, even when you miss only a few hours of sleep a couple of days in a row.
The hard part about this whole scenario is that the only way to truly find out what your 100% operating capacity is, is by getting a full 8 hours for at least a week to see how you feel. This is not nearly as simple as telling someone to go sober up.For more on this topic check out Why We Sleep.