Put fatigue to bed

Everyone needs sleep, especially when working long hours. A lack of sleep is a leading cause of fatigue, which we all know can be extremely dangerous on board.
a large container ship is sailing on calm seas and is a silhouette against a low set orange sun in the back drop.

If you nod off as soon as you hit the pillow, you're one of the lucky ones. But for those who find sleep a struggle, especially at sea, help is at hand. We've asked a group of skippers for their tips and thoughts on tackling sleep on board.

As well as skippers' suggestions for sleeping at sea, you'll find a list of helpful tips for sleeping well at home.


Sleeping at sea

It's one thing getting eight hours' sleep in your own bunk, another thing trying to squeeze in six hours between shifts at sea. So what's the secret? Here's what other skippers suggest:

1. Check the pillow.
If it's uncomfortable, ask for another one.

2. Ventilate the mattress.
When you can, lie it on its side so it can breathe and doesn't go mouldy.

3. Sleep in dry clothes.
Wet socks or clothes make it hard to sleep and can lead to sickness.

4. Avoid using your phone in your bunk.
Screen lights keep you awake.

5. Read to wind down.
Don't play games or check Facebook (see tip #4).

6. Sleep, don't watch TV.
You'll feel refreshed when it's time to work.

7. Check the temperature.
If the cabin's too hot or too cold, it can affect your sleep.

8. Reduce noise and block out light.
Ear plugs and eye masks can help.

9. have a wash before going to sleep.
Some people even rub antiseptic into their hands to stop them clawing up.

10. Is sleep is an ongoing battle?
Maybe talk to your doctor about magnesium or calcium supplements.

“When you get downtime, be sure to make good use of it.” – Rory

“20 minutes during the day is worth 3 hours at night.” – Peter

“Young people tend to watch TV instead of sleep, which makes them tired for the next watch.” – Alec

“Rest when you can. Don't play on Play Station or on Facebook. Have a rest.” – Steve


Sleeping at home

You've got a better chance of sleeping well when you're on land, but that doesn't mean it always comes automatically. Here are nine steps to getting a decent sleep at home (this is especially important the night before sailing).

1. Go to sleep and get up at the same time every day.
A regular bedtime helps set your body's internal clock and maximise your sleep quality. Go to bed at a time when you normally feel tired. If you need an alarm clock to wake, think about going to bed earlier.

2. Avoid sleeping in – even on weekends. 
The more your sleep patterns vary, the harder it is to get up for work. If you need to make up for a late night, have a daytime nap rather than sleeping in.

3. Get a comfortable pillow and mattress.
Just as when you're on board, comfort is important for a good sleep at home. Replace your pillow or mattress if they get between you and sleep.

4. Avoid watching late-night TV.
The light from your TV suppresses melatonin (which helps you sleep), and few TV programmes are particularly relaxing. Try reading, or listening to music or audio books.

5. Avoid bright screens before and at bedtime. 
The blue light from your phone, tablet or computer keeps you awake.

6. Avoid heavy meals before bedtime.
If you need a snack before bed, try milk or yoghurt (which may support healthy sleep).

7. Avoid too much alcohol.
It might make you sleepy at first, but alcohol interferes with your sleep.

8. Make sure the bedroom is dark.
Use heavy curtains or shades to block light from windows, or try a sleep mask.

9. Turn on a fan.
A fan (or radio, mid-station) creates dead noise that blocks out other sounds, preventing you from being woken in the night.

9. Alcohol free.
Try and have an alcohol free day in your time off.


Tap into napping

  • Napping helps minimise the risk of fatigue when you're short of sleep.
  • Nap whenever you can, but the best times are mid-afternoon and after 9pm.
  • To avoid feeling groggy after napping, try to nap for either 30-40 mins, 2 hours or 3.5 hours (so you wake during ‘light sleep’ periods in your sleep cycle).


Our body clock

a circular chart outlining various stages of human sleep patterns.

Our body clock naturally programmes us to be asleep at night – and to be alert at other times.

Times of strongest need for sleep

  • Around 3-5am (highest need)
  • Around 3-5pm (nap time)

Keep in mind that it's easier to make mistakes and cause accidents during these times.

Times of high alertness

  • Mid-morning to early-afternoon
  • Around 6-9pm

It's almost impossible to sleep at these times. You'll feel more alert and capable, but if you've been working long hours, your performance won't be up to scratch.


Fatigue facts

  • The light from TVs and phone screens keep you awake.
  • Room temperature can affect your sleep.
  • Napping helps minimise the risk of falling asleep due to fatigue.