We introduce a simple mathematical model for the description of ‘dormancy’, a survival strategy used by some bacterial populations that are intermittently exposed to external stress. We focus on the case of the cyanobacterial crust in drylands, exposed to severe water shortage, and compare the fate of ideal populations that are, respectively, capable or incapable of becoming dormant. The results of the simple model introduced here indicate that under a constant, even though low, supply of water the dormant strategy does not provide any benefit and it can, instead, decrease the chances of survival of the population. The situation is reversed for highly intermittent external stress, due to the presence of prolonged periods of dry conditions intermingled with short periods of intense precipitation. In this case, dormancy allows for the survival of the population during the dry periods. In contrast, bacteria that are incapable of turning into a dormant state cannot overcome the difficult times. The model also rationalizes why dormant bacteria, such as those composing the cyanobacterial crust in the desert, are extremely sensitive to other disturbances, such as trampling cattle.