I recently spent three nights working at night, doing snow relocation/removal after a huge (for our area) snowstorm. I feel that I now have some experience in the area of lacking sleep, and I realized that I’ve had a couple misconceptions about what happens to people when they don’t get as much sleep as they need.
In one of my stories, I have a group of soldiers/agents who routinely experience hard work with very little sleep. I think I’ve misrepresented their behavior on such occasions several times. Here are a couple of do’s and do not's I have created for myself:
Do: show how people make mistakes when they’re tired. Lack of sleep makes your brain foggy. You miss things. You say things wrong. You make stupid mistakes. Even if someone has been trained to check and double check themselves when they’re tired, show them thinking through the process. Do not have them making accurate snap decisions when they’re tired. That’s unrealistic.
Don't: give people random amounts of time they’ve been up with little to no effects. I found a place where I flippantly announced that someone had been up for two days and was only beginning to be tired. Granted, the guy has been doing this sort of thing all his life. But no matter how good you are at coping when you’re tired, after two days without sleep, anyone is going to be tired.
Do: make them get grumpy. Even normally good natured people get short tempered when they’re grumpy. Even if they know better and know how to stop themselves from getting in fights with their allies when they’re tired. They’re still going to be over-defensive and somewhat snappy.
Don't: make everyone be as emotionally controlled and reserved as they usually are. And if they’re normally emotionally open, make them even more so (wear safety goggles and a helmet if necessary) People are much more likely to start crying when they’re tired. That doesn’t mean that everyone is going to be drowning in tears. It does mean that if you take that one super controlled general who seems to be emotionally dead, give him 30 hours without sleep, let him sleep for half an hour, then wake him up again, give him 16 more hours without sleep and then have something upsetting happen, he might even go so far as to tear up. Maybe. Or get mad. But something is going to happen. If he’s that tired, he’s not going to just nod and move on like he does normally.
Also coffee does not work for everyone.
And even a small amount of sleep can make a world of difference.
If I've made any stupid mistakes, sound tired, sound grumpy, or have ben unusually emotional in this post, you can guess why. :)
I love it when I realize that I can apply something in my life to a story I’m writing. Learning from life is fun!