One of the biggest dangers to you come the post-apocalypse will be your own body and its needs. You are not a computer game character, or a movie character, able to go days, maybe weeks with only a morsel of food and an hour of sleep on a filthy mattress. You need more than that. And exhaustion may be your killer.
See, you’d expect starvation or illness to take you out. Cutting out on sleep might even seem smart, at first. If you’re sleeping, you’re vulnerable to attack. But exhaustion will kill you as surely as lack of food or water will. Only it’ll drive you mad first.
The symptoms of exhaustion start with headaches, dizziness, dry eyes, thirst and progress through to hallucinations. The brain simply cannot handle a lack of sleep that deep. While these symptoms may not actually kill you themselves (though rats deliberately deprived of sleep die within 32 days), do you really think you can survive effectively if you can’t concentrate through lack of sleep?
Anyone who has studied for a big exam or worked late into the night for a work project knows that caffiene can only carry you so far. Too little sleep and you start to behave irrationally, maybe even hallucinate a little. I once stayed awake for a 24 hour roleplay, after spending the night at a nightclub. By the end of it I’d been awake 36 hours. I was drooling, because I couldn’t control my face muscles. I felt disconnected from myself, and I started to see things just out of the corner of my eye. When I got to my bed I was so stressed and hyper from exhaustion I was too tired to sleep. I had to catch a few awful, sweaty, unrestful naps before I actually got a decent sleep – and it took me nearly a week to stop feeling tired.
People who have stayed awake for longer have found the changes wreaked by exhaustion longer-lasting. Peter Tripp, a radio host from the 50’s, stayed awake on his show for 201 hours. After this he believed himself to be his own imposter, a delusion that stayed with him for a very long time.
And let’s face it, it’s not like the post-apocalyptic world will allow for the most restful sleeping habits. If you’re struggling with insomnia now, most doctors suggest shutting off the tv and computer at least an hour before bed (not gonna be a problem) get some exercise (also not a problem) and ensure your bedroom is as tranquil a place as is possible. Dark, warm but not too hot, and maybe smelling faintly of lavender and chamomile. A firm but comfortable mattress and enough pillows to support your head. Maybe a nice pre-bed drink of valerian tea.
Yeah. You’re not gonna have… any of that. If you’re lucky, a blanket on a bed someone died in. And you’re going to be under a constant, grinding kind of stress, the sort that makes the brain gnaw away at itself in a desperate attempt to find its way out of a situation there is no way out of. You’re not going to be sleeping easily any time soon.
And drugging yourself into unconsciousness is not a great trick either. The sleep you have on sleeping pills is not the kind of restful, restorative sleep you need. You might not *die* with that kind of sleep, but you’ll feel really, truly awful. And after long enough you can become reliant on those pills to get you into sleep, and now you’re a drug addict as well as being an exhausted, mentally damaged survivor.
So what’s the answer? How do we ensure your exhaustion doesn’t kill you and all your friends?
I don’t know, but you’d better think of a way.