After we welcomed our kids into our family I've realized that I can function on very little sleep, but over a long period of time this definitely isn't sustainable. In a crisis, a good night's sleep is going to be one asset that's hard to come by. In addition to the never-ending search for food, water and supplies, when you shut your eyes you're extremely vulnerable.
And that's a dangerous thing. You'll hear many people tossing out that old saying, "I'll sleep when I'm dead," but without enough sleep, in a real SHTF situation, you're going to be putting yourself at considerable risk. Now I get that a crisis is extremely stressful, making it hard to relax, but it's up to you to find a way to catch up on sleep when you can.
To get a little insight, I caught up with an old friend over the weekend. He's spent his career in the military, serving on the front-lines of some of the most war-torn countries on the planet. Over a few homebrews he filled me on his tricks for getting a good night's sleep, no matter what.
Find a secure location
The first step to being able to sleep is to feel safe. You need a location that's protected, along with a partner in your survival group who is willing to stand watch. That way you can rest easy, knowing they've got your back. If this is your bug out location, or any abandoned home along the way, make sure to do a quick perimeter check before settling in for the night, and find a corner to curl up in. In the wild this could be finding a rock ledge or cave to have at your back, so if you need to defend you've got assailants only coming from one angle. Oh and make sure you've got something to defend yourself with, like a can of pepper spray.
Station someone to stand watch
In a crisis it's important to never let your guard down. You never know who may be out there watching your party, just waiting for an opportunity to strike. In my core survival group, we've got 4 adults, and we've developed an alternative "watch" system to ensure everyone gets enough sleep. Working on a 3-hour rotation, we swap three times overnight, so that each night someone gets a complete night off from watch duty. We've done a few trial runs of this system, and it's a great way to ensure we're all well-rested, while our camp never goes unguarded.
Cut out the stimuli
To fall asleep quickly you need to remove as much external noise and distractions as possible. Earplugs are great to block out any background noise and find something to cover your eyes so you're in the dark when you're trying to sleep. This way the others in your party don't have to tip-toe around, and they're able to keep any lights that are needed on, just in case. If they do need to wake you, a quick prod is usually enough.
Build a makeshift cot
Despite an exhausting day on your feet if you're not comfortable it can be difficult to fall asleep. If you've got a bedroll in your bug-out-bag spread it out on a flat surface and get comfortable. Otherwise look around for anything you could use. Blankets or curtains can provide a measure of insulation from the floor, and if you're in the wild pine boughs or any springy natural material is much more comfortable than laying directly on the ground. I'm particularly fond of stretching out a tarp and using it as a hammock. It's much cooler if you're in a hot climate, and the gentle rocking is a nice motion that puts me right to sleep.
Don't get cold (or hot)
When we sleep it's normal that our temperature drops a couple of degrees before stabilizing when we fall asleep. Trouble is, if you're somewhere that's either very tropical, or bitingly cold, you're going to have a very disjointed night. You'll toss and turn and just won't be comfortable. In the cold, you want as much insulation as possible from the ground, and avoid anything that will soak up moisture, like cotton in your clothes or sleeping bag. If you're somewhere tropical, you need to find ways to stay cool. A cold shower before sleep can bring your temperature down, wear clean and light clothes for sleeping, and find somewhere with a little breeze.
Take a supplement
In an emergency, being able to take the edge off the stress is often the only way you'll get a good night's sleep. At least for me. My brain never seems to "turn off" as I'm running through scenarios, to do lists, and figuring out back up plans for my back up plans. Melatonin is one of the best supplements I've tried, it's a hormone your body produces normally when it's "time" to sleep. Taking a dose when you need a good 7 to 8 hours sleep will help your internal sleep cycle kick in, and you'll find it far easier to fall asleep. Of course, be sure to check with your doctor before taking any supplements yourself.
In an emergency, sleep is an asset that should be treasured. It's not as immediately apparent as the need for water and food, but without good rest you're a ticking time bomb. You might be OK for a day or two, but eventually, you'll collapse from exhaustion, and that's not going to do anyone in your party any good. So don't try to tough it out, find a way to ensure you're getting enough sleep each night. Even if the SHTF.