Following two fatal battleship collisions in the Western Pacific in 2017, the Navy issued official rest guidelines for sailors at sea.
Now the maritime service wants to know more about the quality of sleep of seafarers.
In a recent study, a team from the Naval Postgraduate School replaced the standard rack-and-pinion curtains of San Diego-based guided missile destroyer Paul Hamilton and outfitted his entire berth with thicker sets. Curtains use a magnet to hold them together in an effort to minimize movement and light penetration while adding privacy.
The researchers also gave 50 volunteers sleep watches at varying rates scattered across the ship. Light and temperature monitors have also been installed inside and outside their racks to track environmental changes.
The study is being led by Nita Shattuck, a behavior specialist at the Naval Postgraduate School who has been studying sleep across the fleet since 2002.
“The idea is to improve the quality of life for sailors on board ships,” Shattuck told the Navy Times in a telephone interview.
The curtains cost around $ 35,000 and were made by Navy Rack Packs, a company operated by a submariner’s wife, Shattuck said.
Lack of sleep can contribute to impaired memory and trigger serious health problems, including heart attacks and high blood pressure.
Investigators cited fatigue or poorly managed sleep as contributing factors in the separate collisions of the Fitzgerald and John McCain guided missile destroyers in 2017, which killed 17 sailors.
A comprehensive review by the Maritime Service of the entire force released as a result of the incidents revealed two similar incidents involving other warships.
As a result, the Navy began to probe how sleep affects readiness. Surface fleet leaders were to implement watch schedules and shipboard routines that better synchronized with circadian rhythms and natural sleep cycles.
Shattuck said the curtain study did not stem from collisions. It is the culmination of years of work and visits to various ships during which she has learned that standard curtains offer privacy but “nothing else”.
She is waiting for answers to questionnaires from 50 volunteers before the researchers can begin to assess their experiences with the different sets of curtains. The entire crew will be asked about their experiences when their ship returns from deployment.
The results of the study are expected later this year.
Data they’ll be looking for include light infiltration, noise suppression, and heat retention. Another curtain design is underway to reduce more noise, Shattuck added.
The first opinions of the sailors seem positive. Paul Hamilton’s team “are keeping the curtains,” Shattuck said.
Modernizing rack-and-pinion curtains to improve sleep quality is just one of the issues Shattuck’s team is investigating on the Paul Hamilton.
They installed 15 white lights enriched with blue in the destroyer’s Combat Information Center, the obscured electronic nerve center of a warship, to study their effects on the crew.
Blue enriched lights have been found to suppress the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep, Shattuck said.
The researchers also distributed 20 pairs of anti-blue light glasses to the night watchmen to adjust and stabilize their circadian rhythms.
The latest studies are part of a three-year shipboard livability review funded by the Naval Advanced Medical Development Program, Shattuck said.
Navy Times Editor’s Note: Following an error from the Navy, we changed the price of the curtains. They are around $ 35,000 for this lot.
Courtney Mabeus is a senior editor at the Navy Times. Mabeus previously covered the military for the Virginian-Pilot, in Norfolk, Va., Where she first set foot on an aircraft carrier.