When the brain does not rest properly, you are vulnerable to the dangerous phenomenon of “microsleep”. If that doesn’t sound dangerous to you, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) can present an example, as a captain’s microsleep was deemed the reason behind a vessel grounding in July 2022.
he nature of maritime work often involves long hours, exposure to continuous noise, irregular schedules, and extended periods away from home. These factors can lead to seafarers experiencing extreme fatigue which affects their cognitive abilities, reaction times, and decision-making skills.
However, sleep deprivation, exhaustion, and long hours of working onboard are neither normal nor “a part of the job”. Ensuring proper rest is of utmost importance not only for a single seafarer’s health, but also the safety and wellbeing of everyone onboard.
Quick facts about microsleep
- In essence, microsleep refers to the occurrence of brief episodes of sleep lasting few seconds.
- Microsleep is characterised by its rapid onset, such that individuals experiencing an episode may not possess conscious awareness of their transition into a sleep state.
- Microsleep may manifest at any given moment, regardless of the time of day.
- During an episode, individuals may exhibit signs of wakefulness, including wide eyes, although their cognitive faculties do not engage in the processing of information.
The best way to prevent microsleep is prioritizing sleep and making sure you get the right amount of sleep you need to feel refreshed and alert.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours a night for adults, more for teenagers.
The following techniques can also be implemented to better help you fall asleep at night:
- Make sure to turn off electronics one hour prior to bed
- Set a relaxing bedtime routine, such as listening to calming music or reading a book
- Avoid caffeine in the late afternoon and evening
- If you are able, make sure to sleep in a cool, dark room
Exhaustion as the reason behind human error
As Andrew Russ, Marine Surveyor at Standard P&I Club has explained to SAFETY4SEA, fatigue has been found to be the major contributing factor in 82% of the 66 recorded groundings and collisions occurring between 0000 and 0600 hours, according to UK MAIB.
In fact, it is estimated that 75% to 96% of marine accidents can be attributed to human error.
Microsleep may only last a few seconds, but it does not need much more for something tragic to occur. For instance, imagine driving your car and having a microsleep episode as you take a sharp turn. These few seconds that you were out of control would have been more than enough to drive you off a cliff and cost you your life.
This is also true onboard. As mentioned, a recent NTSB investigation found that microsleep was the reason behind the incident that occurred on July 28, 2022 at Washington, when the passenger and car ferry Cathlamet collided with a ferry terminal dolphin, with 94 persons on board
According to the investigation, in the days leading up to the casualty, the master reported receiving between 5-6 hours of sleep each night before arriving to the ferry around 0330 to 0345 each morning and assuming the watch about 0720.
The master also stated that in the roughly 4 hours of off-watch time, he did his typical walkaround, which indicated he likely did not sleep. When asked to describe the master’s demeanor, the quartermaster reported that the master frequently appeared to be tired, including on the day of the casualty.
The resting conditions mentioned above, in conjunction with the master’s failure to appropriately reduce the vessel’s speed, neglecting communication with the terminal, and the absence of rudder commands for 28 seconds leading up to the contact, collectively suggest incapacitation resulting from microsleep.
Exhaustion is not always apparent
Prof. Andy Smith, School of Psychology, Cardiff University, had explained that fatigue affects performance long before a person falls asleep, and the profile associated with it is often unknown to investigators and the legal profession.
First, early weariness may be offset by compensatory effort, particularly in compelling conditions. This impact may be seen in the events that transpired when the Applied Psychology Unit at Cambridge was requested to make a video on their study for the BBC. They sleep-deprived one of the research workers to illustrate the sensitivity of their duties.
However, when he was videotaped, he performed flawlessly as he adjusted for his exhaustion by exerting more effort. Unfortunately, this compensatory effort can only be performed for a limited time before weariness takes effect.
Following the screening, he backed into numerous other automobiles in the parking lot.
So, if you or someone else feel tired but overestimate your abilities to cope, it can work for a while, but it won’t work in the long run.
The multi-impact of exhaustion
Apart from causing microsleep, fatigue can also contribute to accidents in the following ways:
#1 Cognitive function
Fatigue may cause drowsiness, difficulties focusing, and diminished cognitive function. This may result in navigation, communication, and general situational awareness errors.
Fatigue may cause misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and communication problems among crew members, which can contribute to accidents.
#2 Reduced reaction times
Fatigue lowers reaction times, which is crucial in the sea’s dynamic and quickly changing environment. Slower reactions might increase the likelihood of a collision, grounding, or other disaster.
#3 Judgment and decision-making ability
Seafarers may fail to effectively estimate hazards or make appropriate decisions, increasing the possibility of mistakes.
Ensure rest to see the rest
Overall, getting enough rest might help you think clearly and prevent making errors. Furthermore, obtaining adequate rest is essential for maintaining excellent physical health. It enables the body to repair and regenerate itself, increasing general well-being and lowering the risk of a variety of health problems.
Sleep is one of the most fundamental necessities in order to live. Nothing is more vital than safeguarding your own and the well-being of the person next to you.