24 hours of solo sailing, heading east along the Tuamotus archipelago, dodging 4 atolls. The boat is running at 6 knots, and if I fell asleep, we could crash catastrophically onto land or boats. Staying up all night seems torturous, though.
People wonder how solo sailors keep a watch when offshore overnight. Personally, I don’t trust my radar to warn me, as some sailors do. The only thing I trust is for my phone alarm to ring, every 20 minutes, telling me, “Wake up dummy, look around, and make sure you’re not about to hit something!”
So I get stirred from my slumber, every 20 minutes, and try to open my eyes and scan the horizon for hazards… and once satisfied, within 15 seconds I fall back asleep. It is almost instant.
While underway, I sleep on my therma-rest in the cockpit bench. When the alarm rings I can simply open my eyes in a stupor, and hazily survey the instruments… wind speed, GPS location, course. Check. Then I’ll look at the horizon for lights & ships, while admiring the stars…the Scorpio constellation rising over the dawn hours… the Southern Cross twirling around Alpha Centauri… and the Milky Way bright as snow in the moonlight. “Oh-oh I see a ship’s light, coming my way!” Ah… common error. It’s just Venus rising on the east, at 3:40am.
Today I feel remarkably refreshed. Certainly much better than spending all night fighting to stay awake.
Is 20 minute interrupted sleep something anyone can do, or only lunatic sailors? My unsupported theory is that if you allow your body to sleep for more than 45 minutes, then you enter REM sleep and it’s really hard to awaken. Perhaps that’s why 20 minute power naps feel so good.
I wonder, however, how the 20 minute sleeping regime would affect a solo sailor (or astronaut?) over several weeks time; whether their bodies would end up fatigued and run-down, and mental functions become impaired… I’d be curious about the studies on interrupted sleeping. If you’re intrigued and have internet, let us know 🙂