When Staying Awake Really Counts

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Last Updated on June 13, 2019

There are some people that we all depend upon to stay awake as others lives depend on it.

When Staying Awake Really Counts - The Prepper JournalWhen Staying Awake Really Counts - The Prepper JournalWhen Staying Awake Really Counts - The Prepper Journal

And anyone who has served in the military has pulled guard duty. Caution! I may be about to give away some very guarded military secrets here.

My first real guard duty was during Army basic training at a place that no longer exists, Ft. Ord, California. Now a part of the Monterrey Bay seaside communities, it was an interesting place to do basic training. The lovely sand beaches made for a great place to run in combat boots, with full packs, and the rifle ranges with the small cove on the bay as the backdrop always had recruits looking for seabirds as opposed to the targets. Like a smaller version of Camp Pendleton, as a California native I always wondered why the government didn’t close and sell off these two bases and use the proceeds to pay off the national debt. Prime real estate for sure, I just didn’t understand politicians at the time, laboring under the foolishness that our best interests were their best interests. Silly me. I have since learned.

When Staying Awake Really Counts - The Prepper Journal When Staying Awake Really Counts - The Prepper Journal

So, one night I got to “guard” one of the ammo bunkers while carrying an empty M-14 with not even a clip, no radio and just an occasional “drive by” from the unlucky lieutenant who was the “officer of the guard” that night.  It was a four-hour shift and I was to continue to march around the bunker, so staying awake was not a challenge as I was to be constantly moving at a reasonable pace. Of course this was a training exercise, no one expected an enemies Seal Team 6 to be assaulting the base anytime soon and the surplus M-14’s were heavier and more abundant at the time than the M-16, making them a better weapon for basic training use, like bayonet training on an asphalt parade field in 95 degree temperatures.

I did get to do a similar task a few weeks later in a fire-watch tower in the Sierra National Forest. This had two of us trainees in a tower, with a radio, canteen full of water and binoculars looking at trees in every direction for a 6-hour shift. More training BUT I had company and the tower was really spacious. Again, easy to move around, and no real threats.

The next time it was too real for all involved and it was then I got the real mission, staying awake and alert meant saving lives, my own included. A base just south of the one I was at in the Mekong Delta had a sapper drop a charge in what was the command bunker on that bases perimeter, manned by a group of four (4) soldiers who were apparently more interested in smoking joints than looking out the openings. Like those at Fire Support Base Mary Ann, they had become complacent.

When Staying Awake Really Counts - The Prepper Journal

So as preppers in a SHTF situation or TEOTWAWKI some of us will be called upon to pull guard duty, to stay alert and awake and ready. To make a life or death call and to be responsible for not only our safety and survival but that of our family and friends with us. A given to those in the military, or police or security people, but a whole different animal to those of us now making our living in other ways, years removed from our military service.

Fast forward to life today where a news broadcast can put us to sleep in seconds, where media content has become so rote it is instantly mind-numbing, the remote not working fast enough to switch channels, were daily commutes are more like glacier movements than the Indy 500. What are some things we can do to stay awake when it really counts?

First, Test Yourself

When Staying Awake Really Counts - The Prepper Journal When Staying Awake Really Counts - The Prepper Journal When Staying Awake Really Counts - The Prepper Journal

After a normal day try staying up for just one night while looking out one of your windows. No smartphone, no TV, nothing that makes noise or gives off light and exposes your position. Boredom is the enemy here. Try a 2 hour shift first and if you succeed try 4 hours. This will bring home the reality of being on guard duty in as safe an environment as possible. Don’t think you have it figured out after twenty minutes, do the full 2-hours the first time, it may save lives someday. If you proceed to try a full 4-hours on another day your have gotten the message that this could be important. PLUS you have gained some compassion for those that do this and perhaps some sense of judging people who will succeed at this and who will fail.

Prepare Ahead of Time

Of course it would be great if you were able to sleep ahead of time. Being tired or sleep deprived when the threats are real is the worst case scenario. There are some steps that can make this somewhat more tolerable, depending on your situation.

Make the guard shifts as short as possible and if you have the manpower, two per shift to keep each other awake. Stagger their relief times so one will always be fresher. The downside is that every 60 minutes there is movement at your guard position. Consider that in your planning.

When Staying Awake Really Counts - The Prepper Journal When Staying Awake Really Counts - The Prepper Journal

If you do have to pull longer shifts alone try liquids – coffee, soda, energy drinks, just water, the colder the better. Sip to make them last and to keep a thirst which will help you stay awake. Remember mixing coffee with energy drinks will keep you awake but your body is not going to forgive you later when you do try to get some needed sleep.

Snack on some stimulants – anything with a high caffeine or sugar content which, as bad as it sounds, could be instant coffee granules, sugar cubes, small pieces of candy not chewed but allowed to dissolve in your mouth. Your dentist will either love you or hate you, depending on the barter he agreed to, but they work. A lot of long-haul truck drivers use this method. Some will recommend dried fruits or nuts – they don’t dissolve and don’t provide the stimulant, and if you chew like a cow that produces noise.

When Staying Awake Really Counts - The Prepper Journal When Staying Awake Really Counts - The Prepper Journal When Staying Awake Really Counts - The Prepper Journal

Mind Games – do math in your head – multiply a three digit number by a two digit number, in your head. This is how actors are taught to look like they are thinking and it works because your mind is engaged. Force yourself to complete the problems. This mental exercise is very useful. Count from 1,000 backwards. It makes time pass and it is a method professional speakers or debaters use to keep from over-reacting to a dissenting reply immediately as opposed to processing the information first. I am talking about real debate as opposed to the mock stupidity that the media passes off as debate.

Sing, in your head, a favorite song and do your best to get the lyrics right. If you get one stuck in your head think of another to replace it. Anyone who has ever ridden on the Small World Attraction at a Disney theme part gets this one.

When Staying Awake Really Counts - The Prepper JournalWhen Staying Awake Really Counts - The Prepper Journal When Staying Awake Really Counts - The Prepper Journal

Make your self less than comfortable, too warm or too cold are good while too relaxed is bad – avoid the things we seek when we are trying to get to sleep. If you can move, then do move. Do a few calisthenics in place, but only if your position will not be compromised. Closed kinetic exercises can be done quietly and are beneficial to boot!

Create a routine – one that you can work through night after night, one that challenges your mind – pick a song to sing where you don’t know all of the lyrics and then fill in the missing parts with things you create; set aside a period of time to do the mind/math mental exercises and stay on that schedule. Do a complete scan of the area you are responsible for covering and then pick some landmarks – places where people approaching might gather and hide. A large tree, a gully, a small hedge roll, and do a scan periodically of just those, concentrating on their shape and contours and looking for any changes.

Complacency is the enemy and it gets people killed.

Of course, when not on guard duty catch as much sleep as you can.

I have read that rubbing a small bit of hot sauce in your eyes will help. It was, after all on the internet. I am mystified that this would even be attempted. After all being there wide awake with your eyes blinded makes you, well, useless. People also suggest kneeling on small rocks or pebbles, or placing some in your shoes to keep you uncomfortable. I am against anything that produces pain, and possible injury. You may instantly need to run from your location, on sore knees with sore feet.

Long-haul drivers have some tricks they use but most involve sounds and motion, enemies to concealment.

When Staying Awake Really Counts - The Prepper Journal When Staying Awake Really Counts - The Prepper Journal When Staying Awake Really Counts - The Prepper JournalWhen Staying Awake Really Counts - The Prepper Journal

One other thing to consider is how to NOT give away your position:

Smoke from a cigarette can be seen at night from distances of 250 to 500 yards , smoke from a campfire for miles.

A flashlight, or light from a smartphone flashlight app can be seen up to 500 yards, even the glow of its screen, all well within sniper range.

Any illumination of you position and you are compromised, and this includes sounds. Noise is a sure giveaway. We all have that friend who taps his or her foot constantly, or the people who like to crack their knuckles. Laser sights work both ways, as do tracer rounds. As to muzzle flash, once you produce that you already know your position is compromised. Plan on having alternate locations after you fire at a threat because you have exposed your position by firing.

Other things that give away your position even at night – light reflected off things like binoculars, weapons, and personal items such as those drink cans. The reality is that if you sit perfectly still, make no noise and stay wide awake you may still be exposed with the layers upon layers of technology that have been fielded to search for, acquire and destroy targets. In a SHTF world these should be limited, hopefully still in the hands of law enforcement and the military, and depending on the condition they may or may not be the people you want to avoid.

Now, as to that buzzing sound….When Staying Awake Really Counts - The Prepper Journal

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About Author

A former rocket scientist (really) who has traveled the world, father, freedom lover, hates to stay indoors, and loves wild places, people and things. PC challenged, irreverent but always relevant and always looking to learn new things.

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Cry Havoc

Chew on the butt of a almost completely smoked cigar. Be sure to swallow a small amount of saliva. It will upset your stomach. But if you are in Indian country, you DO NOT want to give Charlie a chance to sneak up and slit your throat, or toss a satchel charge into your position. Sorry if my description is too vivid, but, when you are assigned to an observation or listening post, your life and the lives of your buddies hang in the balence.


Don’t smoke. period. Smell travels farther than you think. When in foreign country eat what they eat. Smelling like an American can and did get people killed. Cooking coffee is a beacon, drink it cold;instant with maple syrup, and apple juice is a great wake up liquid. Again on smells-poop and pee. Do it fast,low and bury it ASAP. Face and any exposed body parts have to be camo ed. Oil,sweat shine like you never thought possible. Slightest light reflects off of you like a light-stars,moon,etc. can even do it. Stand against solid objects NEVER give a silhouette of yourself.… Read more »

Linda S

Your description of Fort Ord brought back a flood of memories. We lived there 1964 thru 1965; my husband stationed there & we lived just off base in Pacific Grove. Doesn’t seem like that long ago……


Coffee & Sugar and such is great for shorter periods. But don’t forget, when that Caffeine/Sugar rush wears off, you’ll be worse off than you were before. Suck on a canteen of cold water instead. My favorite was counting. 1001, 1002, 1003… but honestly, you’re just burning valuable time. If your guard duty is for real reasons, use your time wisely. You should be committing to memory the most minute details of your surroundings, near and far, so memorize everything. If something changes, you’ll be on it. Also, over time, your eyes will screw with you in low-light and especially… Read more »


Ive spent about eighty seven lifetimes standing watch, with the most excitement receiving drunk sailors at 2 in the morning. But, one day on watch in Cochin India, a pack of ruffians climbed aboard with ill intent, while looking at the most beautiful sunset I can ever remember, I got the drop on these pirates, locked and loaded, they jumped back into the river. in Vancouver BC, we were moored outboard a Canadian vessel, some guy makes it across their quarterdeck and onto ours with a lit Molotov cocktail. A right cross to the jaw and kicked the bottle over… Read more »

Matthew J Van Camp

Great article, even a little humor included. Brought me back to my days as a Navy lookout standing mid-watch, which is from midnight till four a.m. Especially the bit about protecting your night vision, vital for a lookout on inland waters where other watercraft and other navigational obstacles may present themselves at the last moment… There’s a trick to seeing details at night and thats to Not look directly at whatever it is you’re trying to see, its to try to look alongside of it or in other words askance of it and use your peripheral vision to see it… Read more »


I only just found out that pirates wore eye patches so the covered eye could see in the dark hold of the ship, (and I thought I was a sailor). I have a pair of what I call eskimo sunglasses which have solid black plastic lenses with a bunch of little holes drilled through (gotem on ebay). Once you get used to them they reduce glare, saving the eyes for dark spaces in caves or under bruch, but most of all, you never make eye contact with any wildlife. With these glasses and buffalo camo, I have gotten as close… Read more »

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