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Smart Dog

Sleep Deprivation


Sleep deprivation. It’s all part of the job right? Let’s say it’s an ideal world, you’re getting all the rest hours as stated in MLC, SOLAS etc… but getting hours of shut eye on an operational vessel isn’t always easy. You might be trying to sleep during the day, or on a rough passage. It might be noisy all around your cabin; not just from crew but from the guests. You can’t exactly tell them to pipe down can you?

So why is sleepiness such a problem? Well, sleep deprivation has been blamed for some pretty massive disasters. The 1986 Chernobyl disaster for example.  The Exxon Valdez oil spill for another example.  Being tired makes your reaction time much slower; so if you’re in charge of driving the guests to shore in the tender (or come to think of it, the actual yacht…) this can be a bit of a problem.  It can make you a bit clumsier; so watch out for that hot pan or iron. Or if you’re like me, that door frame that surely wasn’t right there before…. Tired people have more accidents, that’s the basic fact of the matter here.

Lack of sleep can seriously impede your learning and development.  During the various sleep cycles we experience each night (or day depending if you got the short straw on the watch schedule), memories are embedded in the brain, so if you don’t get enough shut-eye, you might not remember what you learned (or saw – so maybe not always a bad thing when the guests are partying) the next day. It reduces attention span so when the boss is telling you how dirty he wants his Dirty Martini, how his guests want their margaritas, daiquiris, espresso Martinis and so on you may need to write things down when you realise all you can hear is Charlie Brown’s teacher talking at you.

Not that you should be getting up to no good whilst on board, but lack of sleep also reduces the libido. And it makes you look older… your body can’t fix itself when it’s awake all the time so your puffy eye bags become permanent fixtures. Not to mention fine lines, dark circles and here’s one to be concerned about, the body releases a stress hormone called cortisol when it’s tired which breaks down the collagen in your skin. That’s the stuff in all the expensive creams that keeps your skin young and healthy.

Being tired makes people hungrier as the body craves high sugar and high fat yummy stuff to keep going – it’s hard to say no when you’ve been on the go for hours, so weight gain is another side effect of not sleeping enough.  People who sleep less than 6 hours a day are reportedly more likely to become obese according to recent studies.  And it can make you more susceptible to infections; we’ve all been run down and caught a cold or the flu – then you get to share it with all your knackered crewmates and become the most hated person on board. 

More seriously, like getting porky and wrinkly isn’t enough to have you running scared, medical reports have found that chronic lack of sleep can put you at risk of heart disease, heart attack, heart failure and stroke.  Plus diabetes, high blood pressure and depression. Awesome hey?  Don’t be too hard on someone for bursting into tears just because the toaster was set too high and their breakfast isn’t quite right either. Being tired can make the hardest people emotional. Or grumpy. So when the engineer snaps at you give him a break, he’s probably just tired. And cranky.

So what can we do when we’re faced with trying to get some kip in the middle of the day on a break when the yacht has finally stopped rocking and rolling? Here comes the power nap… There are a few easy steps to follow in mastering the art of the power nap. Firstly find a good spot.  The table in the crew mess is probably not ideal unless you want something to land on your head (on purpose, possibly ironing board or iron depending on how tired the stewardess is).  Ideally your cabin.  You may wish to invest in some ear plugs or put in some noise cancelling earphones.  If you do this – make sure you have someone who knows what you’re doing who can come and wake you up in case of emergency, or at the end of your nap (or put your phone on vibrate under your pillow). Not all yachts allow those earphones or ear plugs due to risk of not hearing an alarm so check this out with the captain/mate on board before I get the blame for you missing work. Listen to something soothing or try something like an audio book or a podcast.  Aim for a short period of say 20 to 30 minutes.  Don’t overdo it or you might feel worse.  Afternoons are usually the best time to have a power nap. Why do you think the Spanish invented the post lunch siesta?  

It takes practice but once you get the hang of it you can tailor your power naps; if you feel too tired then reduce the time. Need a few more minutes? Try that too. 

Power napping is no replacement for missing a lot of sleep but could help you get through the day; do your best to get some quality sleep as soon as you can. That means not sitting up in the crew mess to watch the end of that awful movie (you won’t remember the end of it anyway).  Obviously if you’re on the late shift then it might come down to another can of redbull or cup of coffee and grinning and bearing it but try to get into the habit of sleeping when you have rest hours, regardless of time of day.  When that caffeine leaves your system you will crash and burn… So drink lots of water (dehydration increases that sluggish feeling) and try to eat the right stuff; any good chef will tell you to reach for snacks with a healthy balance of protein, fat and carbs like a cereal bar – easier said than done when there’s a drawer full of chocolate but you’ll thank me for it in the long run!

Sweet dreams!

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