Medical Chronicle

Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleave of care

In your cabin, where there is nothing unnecessary, these objects are present. They are just there keeping you company during this strange solo voyage.

Other objects are not so kind. There’s the gennaker. Impossible to hoist it correctly. This morning got off to a good start. The halyard wound properly on the winch, the handle turned at the right speed and the sail smoothly hoisted. Only the final third left. Yes it can be done. The boat heels over and the sail flaps. Too late! It’s stuck in the staysail stay. A lot of swearing. That doesn’t help much. You have to do something quickly. Clip on. Out onto the bow and pull with all your strength to free the sail. Your hands slip. The boat accelerates and digs into a wave. The wave hits you and knocks you over. The spray stings your eyes. You feel your way around. The sail fills. You try to hold it, but it takes you with it and shakes you up. Don’t let go. Hold on tight and pull. Pull. Your arms and legs begin to hurt. In spite of the cold and damp, you are sweating. Yes. You’ve done it. It’s free. Quickly back to the winch to finish hoisting it before it happens again.

It’s as if you had that furry animal with big ears on board whose name must not be mentioned. It means bad luck. There has always been superstition in the navy and sailing world. On the old vessels, they used to eat the ropes holding teh cargo in place. A sudden heel and the cargo slips with the boat capsizing. On British boats, they have a thing about leafy plants. Their roots are said to drag the boat down.

So many things to do. Check the positions, which have just popped up on the computer screen. Perfect. I haven’t lost any ground, but it’s tight. Now the weather charts. The connection is so slow. OK so bearing 122, for three hours and when the wind shifts, it’s up with the spinnaker. What time is it? I have to call home to say that everything is fine. Then there is the videoconference with my partner. That’s going to take some time. Then the radio session. I have hardly enough time to eat and it’s time to look ahead to the afternoon. Send back the photo to the Press centre, carry out some maintenance, a bit of DIY. Try to stay at the helm for as long as possible, trim all the time and keep an eye out. This evening, there is the video for the website and a nice sunset.

The body needs that light. Like a tulip opening in the morning and closing in the evening, the body reacts similarly. The sun regulates our life and is part of our body’s clock mechanism.

But when the time changes there is the jet lag phenomenon. You adapt to the sun and time change by just one hour a day. When sailing around the Antarctic, the skippers will pass through twenty time zones in one month To stay in phase, they put back their watches half an hour a day to cope. But the phone calls are in French time and you get disturbed at all hours. There’s nothing worse on board.

Many of our body’s functions depend on the sun. The temperature, for example. Lowest at the end of the night, it increases with the sunlight and reaches a peak early evening, before dropping off in the dark. Our ability matches this. Increasing during the day, at its maximum in the evening, it drops off during the night. It’s only normal to feel cold and want to sleep at four in the morning. That’s when the body is supposed to be resting. Awake it is vulnerable, with a maximum risk of a loss of attention. Very dangerous when driving and when safety is paramount. It is not by chance that human error lying behind industrial disasters tends to happen at night.

Our clock does not take into account our social life. We start to feel tired in the early afternoon. The signal is clear. Time to rest. A twenty minute nap. But your boss wouldn’t be too happy.

You yawn, feel tire. It’s hard to concentrate… all signs that you need to sleep. These waves occurring every ten minutes happen every couple of hours. You feel them in the evening, if you don’t go to bed at the usual time. Falling asleep as the body winds down means you slip into deep sleep and get some real rest. It is the ideal. Later, it is harder to get to sleep and the sleep is not of such a high quality.

The skippers have learned to identify this pattern to get some efficient sleep. While remaining fully focused, these sleep expert maintain their performance and limit the risk of accidents or mistakes. In the Forties and indeed elsewhere, there’s no point in denying it. You need your sleep.

Dr Jean-Yves CHAUVE

Snap code

Follow us on Snapchat