"No such thing as a night's sleep": The embattled sleep of American fighting men from world war II to the present

Alan Derickson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


This project aims to contribute to our understanding of the fraught relations of sleep and wakefulness in late modern America. The essay argues that the experience of sleep loss has been a widely prevalent phenomenon within the ranks of the modern American military. The study focuses on the Second World War, an inflection point in the trend toward sustained and continuous operations and other marathon activities. The nature of much combat in that global conflict demanded of fighting men unprecedented levels of stamina and resiliency, levels which often exceeded the limits of human endurance in terms of maintaining alertness and even consciousness. Under considerable pressure to perform and commonly faced with inhospitable conditions for obtaining rest, fighters struggled to meet the steep challenge of prolonged wakefulness through self-discipline and ingenuity. In this ongoing effort from the 1940s up to the present, American warriors have been aroused by fear, chemical stimulants, and a desire not to betray their comrades' trust. This essay seeks to complicate somewhat our sense of modern manhood by drawing attention to wakeful self-denial as a significant factor in gender identity formation. Acceptance, and sometimes celebration, of sleep deprivation in the armed forces reflected and reinforced cultural values and social practices of "toughguy" masculinity, and carried those hard values and practices into civil society.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbersht049
Pages (from-to)47-70
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Social History
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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