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One of the great challenges of sailing alone is what we do naturally every day. Sleep. You need it, your body demands it, yet a storm may be raging and for the sake of the yacht – and your life – you daren’t shut your eyes even for a moment.

Image of part of  a Sailing to Purgatory webpage to illustrate the article.
Nighty night ... Even for a seal, getting off to sleep is not as simple as we might have imagined. Many thanks to Jackman Chiu and Unsplash for the photo.
Yet obviously there is a limit to the time we can stay awake. At some stage, you have to snooze.

I found it a regular challenge when I sailed alone, and particularly while circumnavigating via Cape Horn on my own.

Weather is just one of the worries when you are exhausted and need more than matchsticks to keep the eyes wide – wide enough.

What about at night when ships might be about? As a mariner soon learns, not all ships show lights at night, and even more worrying, it often seems that no-one maintains a watch.

That made for scary moments in my sailing days. Now, this week, reading a searching article about sleep by Regina Bailey on the excellent Thought Co. I learn that if I needed a rest – when I need a rest – sleep might be the last resort for the wise.

Image of part of  a Sailing to Purgatory webpage to illustrate the article.
Nighty night ... Even in the luxury of a fashionable stealth-mobile, sleep can take some working at... Many thanks to Kalegin Michail and Unsplash for the image.
The stages of sleep outlined in her article makes it seem that sleep is not the rest promised in early childhood.

Sleep ain't peace

In fact, it seems, sleep is hard work for humans and the most demanding and disciplined labour by the brain – your brain and mine.

I thought – if I thought about it at all – sleep is the ultimate way of resting. You close your eyes and nature transports you to – well, anywhere but where you are.

However, Regina’s study of the subject suggests it’s not like that at all.

You close your eyes and that triggers the brain into action. We might feel we’re drifting off into complete rest, but for the brain, it’s a time of hard labour.

It doesn’t just turn the light off, it has to remember to put us through four stages of sleep, and each stage has to happen in exactly the right order.

How astonishing that the brain knew how to take on the demanding work even when we were babes. Until this article, I didn’t even know it as a senior human.

Clever, hard-worked brains

Somehow our brains, whether brand new or ancient, aren't given a chance to nod off. They must know, have to remember, that we have to go through four stages in sleep – one called rapid eye movement (REM) and then three of non-REM sleep. And it has to, it must, happen.

Clever brains know the story, apparently, and fortunately need no prompting from the aspiring sleeper.

If you have visited the engine room of a liner you’ll know the complications involved in getting the vessel to sail the right course. That is simple compared to what our bodies go through to be put to sleep...
We might not know it as individuals, but the brain knows it must get busy. First we must be put us through Non-REM sleep - a progression from the lightest to the deepest stage of sleep, plus a slowing of heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, and muscle activity.

Apparently, this REM sleep is a more active stage that’s associated with dreams and faster brain wave activity.

You mightn’t have known it when you were a day or two old and I didn’t know it till a moment ago, but your brain knows, and promotes wakefulness during the day with a release of stimulatory hormones.

When bedtime approaches, based on the circadian rhythm and sleep drive, these hypothalamic signals decrease to allow sleep to begin.

Influenced by the sleep drive

Naturally, the central autonomic system and the pineal gland are also influenced by the sleep drive to encourage our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems to switch on the changes in bodily functions we experience during the stages of sleep.

If you have visited the engine room of a liner you’ll know the complications involved in getting the vessel to sail the right course.

As highly complicated as that is, it's comparatively straight forward compared to what our bodies go through to be put to sleep, and to keep us asleep, and then to wake us.

If you have about twenty minutes to spare, I thoroughly recommend Regina Bailey‘s article, but don’t be surprised if it tires you out.

And that might involve you and your brain in the far-from-easy matter of nodding off ... and hopefully waking in good time. The article is here.

Thanks to Regina Bailey and ThoughtCo for this, well, rather rude awakening.

Thanks very much for visiting the mostly Tuesday and Thursday blogs for my adventure book, Sailing to Purgatory, which are introduced each time on Facebook Facebook dot com/Sailingtopurgatory and on Blogger,

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The blogs for Sailing to Purgatory are introduced on Facebook and Blogger.