Understanding sleep: Essential for high-stress jobs on the high seas

Written by Amanda Hewson


Written by Amanda Hewson


Sleep, an often overlooked aspect of health, is crucial, especially in the demanding life of superyacht crew.

Like terrestrial mammals, we humans have complex sleep needs, engaging in REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, each with distinct stages and benefits, from psychological restoration to physiological repair.

REM sleep, taking up about 25% of our sleep time, is active, filled with dreams, and vital for daytime brain function. NREM sleep, occupying the remaining 75%, progresses through four stages, culminating in deep restorative sleep that rejuvenates the body, regulates hormones, and repairs tissues.

The roles of sleep are multifaceted but universally acknowledged as restorative. Sleep deprivation can be detrimental, impairing attention, coordination, and mood, which can be especially hazardous in an environment requiring high vigilance like superyacht operation.

Good sleepers don’t always have perfect sleep; they may take time to fall asleep and wake occasionally at night. This variability is normal, and occasional disturbances, often due to stress, are common.

Insomnia, however, is persistent difficulty with sleep, lasting over a month and can significantly impact daytime function and psychological health, often requiring professional attention. Affecting more women than men, and increasing with age, it’s the most common sleep disorder and should not be underestimated.

Various factors, from physical conditions like sleep apnea to lifestyle habits or psychological stress, can trigger insomnia. It often becomes a vicious cycle, where anxiety about sleeplessness leads to chronic insomnia.

Breaking the Cycle: Management strategies

Treating insomnia goes beyond medication, which is often only a short-term solution. Sleep hygiene, cognitive therapy, and stress reduction are sustainable strategies for long-term management. Sleep hygiene involves cultivating habits that promote restful sleep, such as:

Consistency: Sleep and wake at the same time daily.

Sleep timing: Go to bed only when tired.

Rising if restless: If sleep doesn’t come, do a calming activity until drowsiness returns.

Mind stimulant intake: Avoid caffeine and nicotine before bedtime.

Alcohol awareness: Alcohol may ease initial sleep but disrupts later rest.

Bed association: Use the bed only for sleep and intimacy.

Nap judiciously: If necessary, nap early and briefly.

Pre-sleep rituals: Establish calming pre-sleep routines.

Bathing: A warm bath before bed can signal your body it’s time to wind down.

Clock caution: Avoid watching the time to reduce anxiety.

Movement: Regular exercise aids sleep, but not too close to bedtime.

Nutrition: Balance your diet and meal timing to support sleep.

Environment: Ensure a quiet, dark, and cool sleep space.

Maintaining a regular daytime routine, even after poor sleep nights, is vital. It reinforces a healthy sleep cycle and mitigates insomnia’s persistence.

Final Thoughts
For those facing the relentless pace of superyacht life, sleep isn’t a luxury; it’s an essential maintenance for cognitive clarity and operational safety. Acknowledging its importance, understanding its complexities, and managing sleep habits are fundamental to both personal well-being and professional performance.


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