Sunnies – Yes or No

The Navy established new rest guidelines for surface ship crews and is exploring whether specially tinted eyewear can help sailors fall asleep faster during scheduled downtime, after a recent deep-dive into surface force readiness showed that crews were overworked and under-rested.

Navy leadership acknowledged over the summer that poorly rested crews on deployment saw degraded performance due to insufficient sleep. After the Comprehensive Review of Recent Surface Force Incidents also noted the link between work performance and sleep, the Navy has sought to take measures to help sailors get more and better rest.

One tactic is to address sailors’s ability to fall asleep after working shifts at computer screens or in artificial lighting. Blue light – what emanates from screens or artificial lighting – blocks the brain’s production of melatonin, the chemical created by the brain to help people fall asleep, according to Navy researchers.

Based on initial testing, Navy researchers think wearing specially tinted glasses for an hour or two before bedtime can make falling asleep easier.

Using currently available materials, the Naval Ophthalmic Support and Training Activity, based at Naval Weapons Station Yorktown, crafted a tint for safety lenses that blocks about 70 percent of blue light, according to a Military Health System news release.

Testing the new lenses comes as the Navy is focusing on sleep, and specifically circadian rhythms. Following this year’s two fatal guided-missile destroyer collisions, Navy investigators found both incidents were caused in part by the prevalence of over-worked and under-rested sailors in the fleet.

“Sleep deprivation has been a significant and well-documented issue for service members,” Cmdr. Marc Herwitz, the chief ancillary informatics officer for the Navy’s Bureau of Medicine, said in the news release.
“It has been especially problematic for those on changing shift work schedules and those who work continuously under artificial lighting.”

The operational navy is seeking to address sleep deprivation through a new sailor rest and workday guideline, which requires commanding officers to incorporate circadian rhythm principles into their watchbills and shipboard routines.

Vice Adm. Tom Rowden, commander of Naval Surface Forces, released a statement explaining that the Comprehensive Fatigue and Endurance Management Policy fulfills one of the recommendations provided by the comprehensive review.

The guidance calls for sailors to get a minimum of seven hours of sleep in a 24-hour day – either seven uninterrupted hours, or five uninterrupted hours with a follow-on two-hour uninterrupted nap. Also, according to the guidance, a sailor’s workday should not exceed either 12 hours in a 24-hour period or eight hours of continuous work, except when required by operational tasks.

Rowden directed cruisers, destroyers and amphibious warships to implement circadian rhythm watchbills and shipboard routines by Dec. 20. Smaller platforms, such as Littoral Combat Ships, Mine Countermeasure Ships and Patrol Coastal Ships have until Mar. 31 to implement the policy.

“The intent of the policy is to provide specific direction to achieve optimal crew endurance, performance, and safety,” Rowden said in his statement.

Better-rested sailors are more productive and more resilient to mental and physical stresses, Rowden’s statement said. Commanding officers operating with sailors who are not rested are essentially conducting operations with impaired sailors.

Military Health System officials are working on tinting for lenses that can be worn an hour or two before bedtime, blocking the light that blocks the brain’s production of melatonin, the chemical that helps people sleep. (Military Health System photo)

Navy sleep researchers think the specially tinted lenses can help implement this guidance, which includes charging leaders with training sailors to take advantage of their protected sleep periods. Navy researchers say anecdotal evidence suggests the lenses are a relatively inexpensive and effective way to help bring on the body’s natural urge to sleep as a work-day winds down.

“We just completed a preliminary study with the use of these blue-light-blocking lenses in a group of active duty military members deployed in military facilities,” Nita Shattuck, a fatigue and sleep expert at the Naval Postgraduate School, said in the news release.
“We’re still evaluating all the data and creating control measures to test, but the results are very promising so far.”

More study is required before the military would consider widespread distribution of the specially tinted lenses. But according to Shattuck’s preliminary research, people who wore the glasses for two hours before going to bed fell asleep about 30 percent faster than those who didn’t use them. If successful, Shattuck thinks the lenses could make a big difference in the amount and quality of sleep warfighters get, especially those who do shift work and have to sleep during hours that go against the body’s natural rhythms.

“They’re getting more sleep which improves their mood and makes them less likely to be drowsy when we need them to be alert, such as when they perform security duties. Nodding off is just not an option,” Shattuck said in the news release.

Depending on the results of Shattuck’s research, Herwitz said in the news release, “this eyeglass application has the potential to enhance the readiness, safety, and productivity of service members and improve their quality of life. We can help them sleep, wherever they might be.”

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5 Responses to Sunnies – Yes or No

  1. gunther says:

    god all mighty…go to a 4 watch system..never had any problems with sleep or so much time to be had on or off watch.. etc etc..or in the case of our navy increase the crew members..

    • Jim D says:

      I actually agree with Gunther! Navies today tend to run their ships with the least amount of personnel as possible and make them do more. EG: Cooks manning seaboats, medics working part of ship, etc, etc. Trying to run warships on merchant ship lines.

  2. I think this could be fake newa or am alternative truth to cover up higher level failures in competence and professionalism, Put up a smokescreen and cover up the real problems of competence and move the blame to the lowest denominator the poor bloody watchkeeper ratings

  3. Jim D says:

    Lack of melatonin causing health problems is not new. NZ scientist, Dr Neil Cherry, ONZM, 1946-2003, put out several papers on possible health effects from EM radiation and melatonin deficiency. He was not alone on his findings and research has found that shift workers who worked under bright lights had lower melatonin levels than normal 9-5 workers. Health problems linked to low melatonin levels have been found to include heart disease, breast cancer and prostate cancer.

  4. Bruce Harwood says:

    I dont think you can compare todays Navy shift workers environment with what we had 30 or 40 years ago. We didnt have to sit in front of a computer screen for the whole shift as they do today. As is mentioned in the article and also by Jim, there is a proven relationship between the effects of looking at a computer screen and sleep patterns.
    There is another more recent factor that I would like to point out. Until recently I was the Network Ops Manager for the Air New Zealand Networks team. I had a team of around 12 mainly young people in their 20’s. In the main there were no unusual issues around sleep patterns of the shift workers, just the usual issues of trying to sleep during the day, but in the last 2 or 3 years we started to see a trend typically with the youngest of them. When people were maybe questioned on performance related or punctuality issues, often the answer was it was because of lack of sleep as they complained they couldnt get to sleep after their shifts. Many of them were even getting prescribed medication to help them sleep. This was something new and we couldnt figure out why this was or what had changed. Further investigation of this brought up the fact that these people were going home after their shift then spending hours on Social Media or gaming instead of going home and relaxing or doing something different. So it was more of a lifestyle issue rather than a workplace one.
    I am not sure how much access the Navy has these days to Social media and the Internet, perhaps its not an issue at sea, but I would say on shore establishments it is probably no different to Civvie Street.

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