Image courtesy US Navy file photo
By Corinne Reilly
Copyright 2014 The Virginian-Pilot
NORFOLK, Va. — For sailors aboard deployed Navy ships, little sleep has long come with the territory.
It's partly a function of the job: A ship at sea is an around-the-clock operation. On top of drills, meetings and daily work, most sailors must also stand watch — on the bridge, in engine rooms, in front of screens in darkened operations centers — on schedules that give little regard to the body's circadian rhythm. One day a sailor might be on watch all morning, and the next all night.
It's partly culture, too: Among sailors, the ability to push on for months at a time with little sleep and no days off is seen as a badge of honor.
Aboard more and more ships, though, that is changing. Rather than seeing it as a point of pride, Navy officials are working to recast fatigue as an unnecessary risk that causes costly mistakes, and some commanding officers are taking significant steps to help their sailors get more and better sleep.
Most notably, an increasing number are scheduling watch shifts that align with the body's 24-hour clock and allow sailors to sleep at the same time each day — a big change from the way the service has long operated.