Sleep is an important function to a person’s physical well-being, as well as the most effective weapon against the onset of fatigue. When we sleep, our brain signals our body to release hormones and important compounds. To achieve a healthy amount of sleep, an average adult should sleep for about seven to eight hours each night. A lack of sleep may cause significant changes in the body and increases the risk for serious health concerns.
A good night’s sleep makes us learn better, cope better with stress, and live a longer life, as we follow our body’s natural desire to rise with the sun and sleep with the moon.
In case sleep disorders are being noticed, improving our sleep should become a key priority. As such, we may need to track our sleep for a few days to identify any sleep-wake patterns and also measure sleep duration and quality.
When it comes to maritime industry, fatigue is seen as a significant contributory factor to many incidents and one of the major concerns for seafarers. In particular, seafarers have a demanding workload and a stressful working environment. For this reason, it is of paramount importance for the operators to monitor work and rest hours of the crew onboard. The hours of rest on vessels are defined as ‘non-working hours’; these do not include the intermittent breaks. The regulation concerning the working and rest time periods in shipping is set by STCW 2010 and MLC 2006.
However, there is no norm for all seafarers even if they work in the same ship, as there are different duties and watches, resulting in different sleeping hour availability plan for each seafarer. Namely, MLC & STCW refer to rest hours (not sleeping hours); therefore, it is up to each seafarer on how to better exploit them. On top of that, it’s the quality of your sleep that matters, not the quantity.
Key tips for a quality sleep
So what can a seafarer do to ensure proper sleep when working at sea? We first have to clarify that every seafarer needs to manage his/her available rest hours in such way so as to include also enough time for resting and sleeping. Of course, this is not an easy task considering that every situation is different.
For example, the 08-12/20-24 shift can be considered as a regular day, because the seafarer sleeps during night time and is on duty during daylight. However, for the 12-16/00-04 shift, the seafarer is required to sleep during daylight and be on duty during night. What is more, in the event of an emergency, or to assist other ships or persons in distress, the captain can suspend the work schedule and change all plans.
In fact, a recent MARTHA Fatigue Report revealed that night watch keepers are most at risk from falling asleep on duty, while captains feel stressed and fatigued at the end of their tours of duty and need recovery time. Simple operational solutions can ensure sleep is easier for those onboard through an effective fatigue risk management.
Keeping the above into consideration, every seafarer needs to keep in mind the following healthy habits in order to maintain a ‘sleep hygiene’ onboard:
- Reduce caffeine as much as possible and avoid any kind of alcohol
- Set a pre-watch routine: have a minimum of 15 minutes (ideally longer) period to wake up your body before starting any work.
- Stay fit: Exercising for 30-45 minutes a day will help you sleep better and help you feel more alert when you’re awake.
- Set your cabin to sleeping mode: Reduce lighting, turn off devices and keep and clean and tidy cabin, sufficient aired.
- Follow a specific pre-sleep routine: Give your body and mind time after watch or work to reduce stress and then go to sleep. Use a time of 30-40 minutes to listen to music or read a book prior going to sleep.
- The sleeping period has to be set during the largest of the two rest periods (as per MLC).
- 1. Quality sleep increases your ability to gain new insight into complex problems by 50%
- 2. Good sleep promotes skin health and a youthful appearance
- 3. Sleep increases testosterone levels and encourages healthy cell division
- 4. Sleep increases athletic performance