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How do Navy SEALs handle 5 days and nights without sleep?

by Mark Miller May 16, 2016

How do Navy SEALs handle 5 days and nights without sleep?

Navy SEAL Hell Week is a five-and-a-half day stretch in which candidates sleep only about four total hours, run more than 200 miles and do physical training for more than 20 hours per day.

Navy SEALs go on missions to raid, ambush and assault enemy forces or terrorist cells. These missions include a lot of sleep deprivation. So in training during Hell Week, as it’s called, Navy SEAL candidates must stay awake for five days in a row to see if they can handle it. And they do this twice.

If they make it as SEALS, that’s just the beginning. For their entire career, they have to go on missions during which they don’t get much sleep at all.

25% of candidates graduate

That’s what I’ve gathered reading about Hell Week. No wonder only about 25 percent of people who enter the SEAL program graduate.

At a site called SealGrinderPT.com, Brad McLeod gives the reasoning for such depriving these young men of sleep:

Question: “How come they make trainees stay awake for 5 and half days?” The BUDS trainees stay awake for five plus days in Hell Week to make sure they can do it in a war zone. SEAL operators and war veterans often have had to stay awake for 72 hours on and 12 hours off shifts. When a battle breaks out you have no choice but to stay awake and get the job done

(BUDS stands for basic underwater demolitions/SEAL.)

Falling asleep standing

MacLeod was also asked this question: “Coach, I heard that in BUDS you get so tired your falling asleep standing up?” Yes; it is weird to catch yourself falling forward and coming out of a sleep.”

He said he found taking caffeine doesn’t do much except by drinking coffee or tea to keep warm. But he added that some SEALs put the instant coffee in their prepackaged meals in their cheek like a wad of chewing tobacco.

His No. 1 tip? “ Keep moving.That is the first rule. If you stop moving you will fall asleep. Doesn’t matter if your standing up or laying down. You will fall asleep. Keep moving.”

4-mile run in 31 minutes

SEAL candidates begin training with a two-month course at the Naval Special Warfare Preparatory School in Great Lakes, Illinois. This is called Stage 1. The Official Naval Special Warfare Website explains what a candidate must be able to do after the course:

The two-month training period begins with a Physical Screening Test. The goal: Improve the candidates’ physical readiness for the rigorous activity they will face at BUD/S.

 The Prep School ends with a modified Physical Screening Test. The test is a 1000 – yard swim, push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups and a four-mile run.

 The minimum standards for this expanded test are as follows:

  • 1000-yard swim – with fins (20 minutes or under)
  • Push-ups: at least 70 (two-minute time limit)
  • Pull-ups: at least 10 (two-minute time limit)
  • Curl-ups: at least 60 (two-minute time limit)
  • Four-mile run – with shoes + pants (31 minutes or under)

Candidates who don’t pass the longer, more intense test are removed from training and reclassified to other jobs in the Navy.

I bet those who flunk are thankful they don’t have to do the sleep-deprivation. That doesn’t come until Stage 3, several weeks later.

Stage 2 includes introduces the recruits to the special operations lifestyle and lasts three weeks.

Stage 3, First Phase, Basic Conditioning … let the SWCC site explain it:

First Phase, the basic conditioning phase, is seven weeks long and develops the class in physical training, water competency and mental tenacity while continuing to build teamwork. Each week, the class is expected to do more running, swimming and calisthenics than the week before, and each man’s performance is measured by a four-mile timed run, a timed obstacle course, and a two-mile timed swim.

Because of its particularly challenging requirements, many candidates begin questioning their decision to come to BUD/S during First Phase, with a significant number deciding to Drop on Request (DOR).

Hell Week: 5 days and nights without sleep

Many decide to drop out before Hell Week, which is about more than sleep deprivation, per the site:

The fourth week of training is known as Hell Week. In this grueling five-and-a-half day stretch, each candidate sleeps only about four total hours but runs more than 200 miles and does physical training for more than 20 hours per day. Successful completion of Hell Week truly defines those candidates who have the commitment and dedication required of a SEAL. Hell Week is the ultimate test of a man’s will and the class’s teamwork.

The next phases include combat diving, land warfare training and finally mastery of SEAL skills, which includes the infamous SERE training—survival, evasion, resistance, escape. A man who went through U.S. Air Force SERE training explains what it was like in 1984 in this article at Business Insider. It sounds just as bad as Hell Week.

In a forum on the site SurvivalistBoards.com, oneshotonekill writes:

from exp, i went through u.s.m.c. SERE SCHOOL AND IT IS WORSE THAN HELL WEEK IN BUDS. KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT,TAKE THE BEATINGS LIKE A MAN,DONT TAKE ANYTHING THE INSTRUCTERS OFFER YOU. KEEP YOUR HEAD ABOUT YOU, HOLD IT HIGH AND REMEMBER ITS ONLY TRAINING……….. JUST ANOTHER DAY IN GRUNT WORLD!!!!!!!!!!!!!

War is hell

The people who train to be SEALs are gung-ho about patriotism and defense of the nation. Anyone who is considering becoming a SEAL or other type of recruit would do well to remember what U.S. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman said about war during the U.S. Civil War: “There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but boys, it is all hell."

Mark Miller
Mark Miller



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