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Vitamin Sea: Sleep patterns

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Sleep is one of the most important issues at sea. Tired, fatigued, stressed and distracted people make mistakes. So ensuring there is enough time to rest, and that you can get quality sleep is all important. Is enough done at sea to aid restful sleep?

HOURS OF SLEEP

Seafarers Sleep

Hours of sleep for seafarers

Much has been made of the need to ensure that hours of rest legislation is complied with, but often that doesn’t tell the whole, or indeed the real story. According to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), work hours are defined as the number of hours for which a seafarer is required to be on duty.

Conversely, hours of rest are defined as the time outside these hours of work. So far, so sensible. The legal limit on how many hours can be worked at sea is enshrined within the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC2006).

The MLC2006 states that normal working hours are based on an eight-hour day, with one day of rest per week. Further to that, the following applies:

  • You must not work more than 14 hours in any 24-hour period.
  • You must not work more than 72 hours in any seven-day period.
  • You must have at least 10 hours’ rest in any 24-hour period.
  • You must have at least 77 hours’ rest in any seven-day period
  • However, in the event of an emergency, or to assist other ships or persons in distress, the captain can suspend the work schedule.

RECORD KEEPING

Logbook

Keeping record of hours slept

Vessels must keep records of hours of work and hours of rest, and seafarers must receive an endorsed copy of the hours of work/rest. Indeed a log recording the number of hours of work and rest for each crew member must be maintained at all times.

When it comes to what actually constitutes “rest”, well then things become a little less cut and dried. It is one thing to assume that seafarers are not working, that much is obvious. However, some rest is clearly more restful them others.

So what is rest? What does it really mean, and does it naturally allow seafarers to recharge their batteries merely by taking off their boiler suits and slumping in a chair in front of the TV? Or is there more to it, and is rest almost as complicated as work?

The dictionary defines “rest” as to cease work or movement in order to relax, sleep, or recover strength. So while it seems the stopping work bit is agreed, there doesn’t appear to be an easy answer to relaxing, sleeping and recovering strength onboard a ship.

NICE AND EASY DOES IT

Seafarer sleep pattern / fatigue

Sleeping patterns

Sleep seems pivotal to all this. How though can seafarers ensure a good restful period of shut eye when there may be noise, vibration and all manner of other distractions to contend with?

Healthy sleep habits make a big difference in quality of life. Having healthy sleep habits is often referred to as having good sleep hygiene by experts. While that might sound a bit, well, wrong…they have a point.

The most basic key is in the word sleep pattern – it is important to somehow try to start and maintain some consistent basis for sleeping. On some ships the watch pattern itself can help with that, but on other ships with lots of port calls it can be a real challenge.

Whatever the reality onboard, it is important to somehow find a pattern and to develop a rhythm which the brain can latch on to and understand the times of sleep as opposed to being wired for work.

A SLEEPING PATTERN

So what are the six top tips for developing a sleeping pattern, and being able to get that quality rest which makes such as difference to performance and to safety, and even quality of life at sea? Well, here are some rules that can help:

  1. Try to stick to a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wake up time. This helps to regulate your body’s clock and could help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.
  2. Practice a relaxing pre-sleep ritual. A relaxing, routine activity right before bedtime conducted away from bright lights helps separate your sleep time from activities that can cause excitement, stress or anxiety which can make it more difficult to fall asleep, or to get sound, deep sleep or to remain asleep.
  3. Exercise can really help when it comes to sleep. Vigorous exercise is best, but even light exercise is better than no activity. Exercise at any time of day, but not at the expense of your sleep. Seafarers often report they are too tired to exercise – but this is a bit of a negative spiral, too tired to exercise because they don’t sleep well enough. This is a cycle that needs to be broken.
  4. It can be especially important for watch keepers to consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs can be useful to – but only if they mean you can still hear any alarms, knocks on the cabin door or phone calls. Often ships can have bright lights dotted around the accommodation, so even at night curtains are important.
  5. Avoiding heavy meals and caffeine before trying to sleep. These can cause discomfort from indigestion making it hard to drop off. Try a light snack 45 minutes before bed.
  6. Wind down. Your body needs time to shift into sleep mode, so spend a little time before trying to sleep doing a calming activity such as reading.

What do you think? Do you have any secrets to getting off to sleep? We’d love to hear your thoughts, let us know.