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Crew Endurance Team explores innovative sleep solutions onboard USS Paul Hamilton

Sailors onboard USS Paul Hamilton participate in the NPS Crew Endurance Team’s latest study assessing the impact of innovative rack curtains on sleep quality. Over a three-week period, Sailors will use a ‘sleep watch’ and fill out questionnaires about their experience comparing standard issue curtains versus new versions that reduce light, noise and temperature change.

The Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) Crew Endurance team, whose research has already led to fleet-wide changes in watchbill rotations to provide more sleep to Sailors, has now focused their studies on the quality of that sleep. The team recently embarked onboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Paul Hamilton (DDG 60) to study innovative changes to Sailor work centers and berthing compartments, and their potential impact on crew health and performance.

Led by Dr. Nita Shattuck, the Crew Endurance Team has long touted the importance of sleep ...  they’ve monitored the sleep schedules of Sailors for over a decade, demonstrating how optimized schedules improve the health, performance and readiness of the Navy warfighter.

Now, the team is working to develop enhanced rack curtains for berthing compartments that reduce light, minimize temperature fluctuations, increase privacy and reduce noise levels, all with the goal of improving sleep quality.

“We have been studying crews on underway U.S. Navy ships since 2002,” said Shattuck. “We have developed some great relationships with several ship commands who have encouraged us to try out our ideas on their crews. Getting underway with the ships and experiencing the same challenges that the Sailors face gives us the credibility needed to do underway studies that can lead to positive change for Sailors and increase their effectiveness.”

While underway, the team installed 300 pairs of the newly designed rack curtains, replacing the standard-issue curtains that are currently used on almost all Navy surface combatants. These new curtains, in addition to being made from thicker and heavier government-approved fabric, can be laundered and have interior pockets that provide convenient storage for the crewmember. The pockets also contain magnets to reduce movement at the bottom of the curtain, ensuring additional privacy and further reducing light from outside the rack.

In order to measure the effects of the intervention, 50 crewmembers of varying rank and specialization, and in differing berthing arrangements across various ship locations, volunteered to participate and wear “sleep watches” for the three-week study period. The NPS team will compare the quality of sleep received by Sailors while using the old and new curtains.  

In addition, light and temperature monitors have been installed inside and outside of the participants’ racks to quantify any changes in environmental conditions. And finally, participants will fill out questionnaires to provide feedback on their experiences with both the old and new rack curtains.

“It is amazing to see how much progress the Navy has made toward improving crew endurance,” says Shattuck. “The surface force continues to be forward-leaning, permitting us to try out schedules and new methods that may help optimize Sailor effectiveness, increase alertness and reduce fatigue levels. These new curtains bring us one step closer to meeting the goal of well-rested Sailors performing at their optimal levels.”

Shattuck anticipates the results of the team’s latest study to be ready later this year. Meanwhile, the Crew Endurance Team continues to look at other tactics and innovative solutions to optimizing crewmember rest so Sailors are better able to respond to the challenges posed by an increasingly complex world.

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