Medical Chronicle

Perchance to dream

Photo sent from the boat La Mie Caline, on December 6th, 2016 - Photo Arnaud BoissieresPhoto envoyée depuis le bateau La Mie Caline le 6 Décembre 2016 - Photo Arnaud BoissieresBonsoir bonjour bienvenue a bordIci on est inquiet pour Kito et on pense

A few days ago, there was no way you would have left the boat do it all herself speeding along at 20 knots, but you get used to anything. Hearing the water speed by is a pleasure rather than a worry now. It means you are fast and all is well. Get some more sleep, just a little.

You curl up and close your eyes. The dream is still playing in your mind. You seem to have dived into the deep ocean on which you are racing. You are looking up at the surface as if it was the sky. A sky which changes colour, black, blue, pink depending on the cloud cover. Rays of light penetrate the surface like a projector bringing life to this mass of liquid. This morning this sky is whipped up with huge waves with foam and breakers sparkling and crashing down in a deafening explosion. You are like a whale swimming without effort. Close to the surface, the waves hit you, but deeper down, it’s a slow rocking movement.  

Suddenly, you hear a noise you haven’t heard before. It’s not the sound of a propeller from a cargo vessel. But you know what this different noise is. Something you feared, as it is aggressive, attacking you, cutting off communication with all your colleagues hundreds of miles away. No, this is a shrill sound and regular, like a wailing which gets louder. The noise is penetrating as it draws near. And then suddenly there is something moving along just under the water. Like an enormous fish. At the tip of a large fluorescent fin a bulb cuts through the water like a torpedo. You hardly have time to think and it is there above you. You just manage to avoid getting sliced in two. The whirlpool gives you a jolt and already it is gone, leaving a white trail in the water, like a vapour trail in the sky.

But it was all just a dream and you suddenly wake up. You wonder if there was really a whale down there which you may have hit causing damage to it and to your boat. You need to have a horn to alert them. Out of the way. I’m coming through.

Time to get up out of your bunk. Your socks are there beside you to remain dry. You struggle to put them on with the movement of the boat. Your feet slip on the wet floor. Get some tea brewing. A glance at your watch. You slept for ninety minutes, an average sleep cycle. It wasn’t easy with all that noise, but you shut everything off. It is vital to get to slep quickly and within ten minutes or so you were in deep sleep mode. This is the essential phase, when the muscles relax and the tiredness vanishes, a regeneration phase, when children grow. Then you move into the awakening with a complete dive into paradoxical sleep, which is a bit like being awake, although it is in fact very deep sleep. The body moves around and the eyes blink. This is the period during which we have the clearest dreams. Dream trips to eliminate stress, stimulate creativity and back up the day’s useful data. Then, it’s back to consciousness with the occasional dream like that of the whale.

90 minutes of sleep. A sleep cycle with the dream phase. What more do you want? On dry land, we require 7 hours. Out here it’s by cycle. Some scientists believe that there were too many predators for early man to sleep for long periods. To survive, it was necessary to have these short 90 minute naps and then take a look around to see what was happening. For the daily sleep is divided up into 3 or four cycles, which tend to be at night, so 5 or 6 hours in all at best. This means they can remain alert.
But sometimes the conditions are too worrying. The tired body has to adapt and dive straight into deep sleep just for a few minutes. A quick recovery period and then time to wake. No time for dreaming here, as it’s all done and dusted in a quarter of an hour. Short and efficient, this can only be done when fully stressed and lacking sleep and is impossible otherwise. This is the sort of quick nap you can take at a motorway service station at night.

Then finally, there is the solution of flash sleep, when nothing else is possible. A few seconds of relaxation with the eyes closed and some calm breathing. Just enough time to reboot the brain. No thinking, except maybe about the whale, as half of your brain remains awake when the other half is asleep. Ideal to be half awake when you’re a skipper.

Dr Jean-Yves CHAUVE

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