Why the Navy needs sleep

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Why the Navy needs sleep

[cap­tion id=”” align=“aligncenter” width=“500”] An exhausted Sailor in WW2. From FilmIn­spec­tor[/​caption]

For the three years I worked on a sub­ma­rine, I never aver­aged 6 hours of sleep a night. Most nights under­way, it was 34, occa­sion­ally 5. In port, I might make it to 6 hours, depend­ing on how much main­te­nance my divi­sion was per­form­ing. At the time, I sim­ply felt like a zom­bie, but I shrugged it off, because our whole crew received lit­tle sleep.

That lack of sleep took a toll. I strug­gled to main­tain a healthy weight and was always stressed. My tem­per was ALWAYS short. I found it hard to con­cen­trate on tasks and study for exams. I missed lots of details. Luck­ily, I had good watch teams, where we caught each oth­ers mis­takes, but I felt a lot like the crews in Bat­tlestar Galac­tica Episode 33.

The Navy’s atti­tude towards junior offi­cers in the sub­ma­rine and sur­face fleet com­plain­ing about sleep is “suck it up.” That “suck it up” men­tal­ity is back­fir­ing, because the Navy found that lack of sleep con­tributed to two recent col­li­sions that killed 17 Sailors. Iron­i­cally, the Navy is dic­tat­ing required sleep for any per­son­nel that work on air­craft, but hasn’t done so for sur­face fleet watch­standers. In the past, it was sim­ply air­crew personnel.

The sad part is that our own cul­ture is still fight­ing this. I sit on a num­ber of Face­book groups, and rather than sup­port­ing mea­sures to get our Sailors sleep, they mock them, with the typ­i­cal “back in my day” speech. The truth is that we are run­ning our ships ragged, much worse than we ever did before Sep­tem­ber 11, 2001. They don’t have enough man­power, in many cases due to gapped bil­lets by per­son­nel ripped away through the Indi­vid­ual Aug­men­ta­tion process. They have crazy sched­ules writ­ten by dis­tant lead­ers who are often not mon­i­tor­ing how hard they push them. Even when they are in port, they are strug­gling to get repairs to the ship, and our ship­yards are grow­ing more inef­fi­cient at get­ting even basic main­te­nance done.

We are burn­ing both ends of a can­dle, while China and Rus­sia build a big­ger and more lethal can­dle. The por­tions of the fleet clos­est to the prob­lem are the ones worst affected.

In many ways, we are becom­ing our own worst enemy. We spend bil­lions on a Navy, then over­tax it with require­ments it can’t pos­si­bly fill, run its Sailors into the ground, and don’t put in the money for main­te­nance or train­ing. If we can’t build a larger fleet, remove some of our require­ments and get our Sailors healthy again, we won’t be able to take on our peer adver­saries, because we’re too busy fight­ing ourselves.


This post rep­re­sents the views of the author and not those of the Depart­ment of Defense, Depart­ment of the Navy, or any other gov­ern­ment agency.

Please donate to Da Tech Guy, and let your Con­gres­sional rep­re­sen­ta­tive know that you care about how much sleep our mil­i­tary is getting.

An exhausted Sailor in WW2. From FilmInspector

For the three years I worked on a submarine, I never averaged 6 hours of sleep a night. Most nights underway, it was 3-4, occasionally 5. In port, I might make it to 6 hours, depending on how much maintenance my division was performing. At the time, I simply felt like a zombie, but I shrugged it off, because our whole crew received little sleep.

That lack of sleep took a toll. I struggled to maintain a healthy weight and was always stressed. My temper was ALWAYS short. I found it hard to concentrate on tasks and study for exams. I missed lots of details. Luckily, I had good watch teams, where we caught each others mistakes, but I felt a lot like the crews in Battlestar Galactica Episode 33.

The Navy’s attitude towards junior officers in the submarine and surface fleet complaining about sleep is “suck it up.” That “suck it up” mentality is backfiring, because the Navy found that lack of sleep contributed to two recent collisions that killed 17 Sailors. Ironically, the Navy is dictating required sleep for any personnel that work on aircraft, but hasn’t done so for surface fleet watchstanders. In the past, it was simply aircrew personnel.

The sad part is that our own culture is still fighting this. I sit on a number of Facebook groups, and rather than supporting measures to get our Sailors sleep, they mock them, with the typical “back in my day” speech. The truth is that we are running our ships ragged, much worse than we ever did before September 11, 2001. They don’t have enough manpower, in many cases due to gapped billets by personnel ripped away through the Individual Augmentation process. They have crazy schedules written by distant leaders who are often not monitoring how hard they push them. Even when they are in port, they are struggling to get repairs to the ship, and our shipyards are growing more inefficient at getting even basic maintenance done.

We are burning both ends of a candle, while China and Russia build a bigger and more lethal candle. The portions of the fleet closest to the problem are the ones worst affected.

In many ways, we are becoming our own worst enemy. We spend billions on a Navy, then overtax it with requirements it can’t possibly fill, run its Sailors into the ground, and don’t put in the money for maintenance or training. If we can’t build a larger fleet, remove some of our requirements and get our Sailors healthy again, we won’t be able to take on our peer adversaries, because we’re too busy fighting ourselves.


This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Please donate to Da Tech Guy, and let your Congressional representative know that you care about how much sleep our military is getting.