Day 40 – Row time, nap time, row time, nap time…

Emma Mitchell By

Day 40 – Row time, nap time, row time, nap time…

Beep beep, beep beep! Beep beep, beep beep! Probably my least favourite sound on Doris is the sound of the alarm waking us up after a far too short sleep ready for another shift on the oars. So much so that I regularly hear it in my dreams and wake up in a panic thinking we are late getting ready. Sleep deprivation seems to confuse me a lot and I have woken all of the other girls up multiple times thinking we need to rush and get ready only to be told to go back to sleep. Poor LP got woken up by me twice last night and is probably glad we have swapped pairs again today.

The alarm triggers an automatic reflex to put our heads back under the sleeping bag and fall back asleep and it is with great reluctance that we start getting ready. Trying to leave the lights off for as long as possible and dress by the glow of the chart plotter we attempt to put as many clothes on as possible without sitting up or leaving the sleeping bag. Putting on leggings in a sleeping bag is a skill we have all developed. Once thermal layers are on it is time to take a deep breath, extract ourselves from the sleeping bag and reach for the wet weather gear. This usually requires switching on the lights to identify who’s is who’s and therefore is accompanied by squinting and groaning. If the wet weather gear is dry this is not too painful. When it is sodden from the previous shift it makes me want to cry. Finally socks, shoes and life jackets have to be put on before exiting into the cold night air. The person in the front rowing seat gets a 10-15min show at the end of their shift watching this performance. It is comical to watch as what seems like getting ready quickly inside the cabin looks painfully slow from outside. Often a person will sit looking at an item of clothing or shoe for a good 10 seconds before figuring out what to do with it. Conversation is usually limited to ‘here’s your jacket’, ‘can you pass my socks’ and ‘thanks’ as we drag ourselves slowly into wakefulness. Occasionally exhaustion gives way to mild hysteria as someone gets stuck in their jacket or gets their head stuck in the leg of their leggings trying to put them on as a top.

Once on the oars we have a variety of strategies for staying awake. On a clear, starry night 2 hours passes quickly with the beautiful scenery. When we are battling with wind and waves this acts as a distraction. However there are also plenty of shifts where I struggle to keep my eyes open and stare longingly into the cabin where the other two are sound asleep. I swear I have actually sleep rowed before waking up with a start with no memory of the previous 20 minutes. The dawn dance helps as does telling stories but the best part of any night shift is re-entering the warm cabin and getting into the sleeping bag ready for another nap. Remembering to set the alarm before we snooze, the cycle starts again.



  1. sue goddard says:

    You girls make an amazing team. Can’t imagine living in that small a space. You are an inspiration. Stay safe.xx

  2. Allen says:

    Hi again,
    Firstly sleep! Sleep is very poorly understood and most of the theories Here is a bit of information on sleep! ( Part 1.)

    Why do we sleep?

    So why do we sleep? This is a question that has baffled scientists for centuries and the answer is, no one is really sure. Some believe that sleep gives the body a chance to recuperate from the day’s activities but in reality, the amount of energy saved by sleeping for even eight hours is miniscule – about 50 kCal, the same amount of energy in a piece of toast.

    We have to sleep because it is essential to maintaining normal levels of cognitive skills such as speech, memory, innovative and flexible thinking. In other words, sleep plays a significant role in brain development and function.

    What would happen if we didn’t sleep?

    Irritable people!
    A good way to understand the role of sleep is to look at what would happen if we didn’t sleep. Lack of sleep has serious effects on our brain’s ability to function. If you’ve ever pulled an all-nighter, you’ll be familiar with the following after-effects: grumpiness, grogginess, irritability and forgetfulness. After just one night without sleep, concentration becomes more difficult and attention span shortens considerably.

    With continued lack of sufficient sleep, the part of the brain that controls language, memory, planning and sense of time is severely affected, practically shutting down. In fact, 17 hours of sustained wakefulness leads to a decrease in performance equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.05% (two glasses of wine). This is the legal drink driving limit in the UK.

    Research also shows that sleep-deprived individuals often have difficulty in responding to rapidly changing situations and making rational judgements. In real life situations, the consequences are grave and lack of sleep is said to have been be a contributory factor to a number of international disasters such as Exxon Valdez, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and the Challenger shuttle explosion.

    Sleep deprivation not only has a major impact on cognitive functioning but also on emotional and physical health. Disorders such as sleep apnoea which result in excessive daytime sleepiness have been linked to stress and high blood pressure. Research has also suggested that sleep loss may increase the risk of obesity because chemicals and hormones that play a key role in controlling appetite and weight gain are released during sleep.

    What happens when we sleep?

    REM ( Rapid eye movement sleep.)
    What happens every time we get a bit of shut eye? Sleep occurs in a recurring cycle of 90 to 110 minutes and is divided into two categories: non-REM (which is further split into four stages) and REM sleep.

    Non-REM sleep

    Stage one: Light Sleep

    During the first stage of sleep, we’re half awake and half asleep. Our muscle activity slows down and slight twitching may occur. This is a period of light sleep, meaning we can be awakened easily at this stage.

    Stage two: True Sleep

    Within ten minutes of light sleep, we enter stage two, which lasts around 20 minutes. The breathing pattern and heart rate start to slow down. This period accounts for the largest part of human sleep.

    Stages three and four: Deep Sleep

    During stage three, the brain begins to produce delta waves, a type of wave that is large (high amplitude) and slow (low frequency). Breathing and heart rate are at their lowest levels.

    Stage four is characterised by rhythmic breathing and limited muscle activity. If we are awakened during deep sleep we do not adjust immediately and often feel groggy and disoriented for several minutes after waking up. Some children experience bed-wetting, night terrors, or sleepwalking during this stage.

    Closed eye REM sleep

    The first rapid eye movement (REM) period usually begins about 70 to 90 minutes after we fall asleep. We have around three to five REM episodes a night.

    Although we are not conscious, the brain is very active – often more so than when we are awake. This is the period when most dreams occur. Our eyes dart around (hence the name), our breathing rate and blood pressure rise. However, our bodies are effectively paralysed, said to be nature’s way of preventing us from acting out our dreams.

    After REM sleep, the whole cycle begins again.

    How much sleep is required?

    There is no set amount of time that everyone needs to sleep, since it varies from person to person. Results from the sleep profiler indicate that people like to sleep anywhere between 5 and 11 hours, with the average being 7.75 hours.
    Jim Horne from Loughborough University’s Sleep Research Centre has a simple answer though: “The amount of sleep we require is what we need not to be sleepy in the daytime.”

    • Robert says:

      Thanks for that Allen. Laura has been hallucinating, which the other ladies seem to find funny. Occasionally completely illogical sentences pop up in the blogs. Repair work during sleep is moving chemicals etc to the right places which takes some time to complete, it’s not energy intensive. If you only have 2 hours off that’s 30 min to prepare to sleep 60 min to fall asleep, sleep & wake up, 30 min to prepare to go back outside. In some of those 2 hour breaks you have to spend time eating. It is a totally crazy way to treat your body for several months! Try 8 hour watches for a week, you’ll never go back:) At least try rowing with 1 oar each, you’ll be amazed at the extra power you can transmit to the water to propel your 1 ton less food you’ve eaten so far boat along.

  3. Robert says:

    Looks like uncle Tone has finally got the hang of this routing business? Hey Tone, while you’re at it you could put John Beeden out of his misery & send him to Honolulu. From his current position he would probably beat the girls there!!! I think the likelihood of John reaching Australia is pretty small?

    • Robert says:

      On second thoughts I think Tone’s change of course from 207 to 249 is a bit radical. I would stick with 233 until your a fair bit further south, then head for Honolulu:)

  4. Allen says:

    Hi there,

    I have worked shift work for most of my life and have also engaged in ultra marathon events, so know a little about sleep deprivation.
    It’s also 4.00 a.m and I can’t sleep at the moment!
    Lots of animals have very different sleep patterns to ourselves. Lions and pythons have some of the longest periods of sleep.. Probably safe from predators!
    Horses, cows and giraffes sleep very little, perhaps because they need to eat for long periods or because of a fear of predation.
    Some animals are able to send one half of their brains to sleep, whilst the other is awake. So called Unihemispheric sleep. In this state, there is no REM sleep.
    I have tried this myself, by closing one eye and trying to shut out stimulus from one side of my body.. It is a strange sensation, but whilst running or canoeing it felt like I was getting a rest! However it does affect your depth perception and canoeing in rough water, or running over uneven terrain, tended to keep both eyes open! I have also closed both my eyes, whilst on a safe surface, such as running on the beach or paddling on flat water using the feel of the wind or directional sounds to keep me straight. I have got up to 100 paces or paddle strokes, before briefly opening my eyes to check that I was safe and travelling in the right direction! So there are ways of sleeping whilst you are awake!

    There are also ways to improve the quality of your sleep, such as visualisation and meditation to prepare yourself for sleep. There is currently a phone app that is supposed to detect periods where you lie still and play you restful sounds, such as walking in a forest, by a stream or along a beach. This is done in the period just before you are about to wake, which the phone does very gently! A little different to your alarm clock and rigid 2 hour schedule! ( The app is called Dream:On and is free on iphones!)
    So hopefully some ideas to improve the quality of your sleep and also ways of “sleeping” whilst you are awake. ( Safely!) It’s now 4.30 a.m. and I’m back to bed for my next sleep shift!
    Best wishes as always.

    • Robert says:

      Nice thoughts Allen but these ladies are working their muscles to the limit. So they need 6 hours solid sleep for all the repair work to happen, and so they don’t permanently damage their immune systems. That means they need 8 hour watches. As there are 2 pairs of ladies and 3 watches to fill per 24 hours each pair will cycle through the 3 watches to share the dog watch & the nice 08:00 to 16:00 watch.
      The ladies on watch can vary their rowing pace and enjoy their normal wake time. Also each lady needs to only have 1 oar to deal with instead of 2, got that Tone:)

  5. Wow Emma what a great insight into the very real challenges you are facing. We all take sleep for granted. This is a facinating insight into how you are coping. I hope the suggestons above help. We are so proud of the progress you are making. Your plan is working- your plan is very pleased with your progress. Well done. Andrew & Simon

  6. JG says:

    Just about halfway between Santa Barbara and Honolulu – very well done! It seems that you are nipping along now in the trade winds making good speed. In these conditions could one rower cope and maintain the boat’s speed I wonder? Would it be worth trying this every four days for a 24 hour slot. If one rower did two hours whilst the other three slept it would be 6 hours from the end of their shift before their turn came round again? Another thought occurred to me concerning how you sleep and trying to squeeze the most time into it. During nthe daylight sleep periods is it worth just lying down to sleep without removing clothes except outer waterproof shell?

  7. mike says:

    Very good progress girls reward your bodies with 8 hour shifts you deserve it. You need to sleep. Common Sense.

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