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The Science Behind Improving Sleep on Board

22 December 2022By Lauren Beck
Circadian Positioning Systems app in use.

Written by

Lauren Beck

Editor Lauren Beck has been with Dockwalk since 2006. At 13, she left South Africa aboard a 34-foot sailing boat with her family and ended up in St. Maarten for six years. Before college, she worked as crew for a year, and then cut her journalistic teeth at Better Homes and Gardens and Ladies’ Home Journal online. She loves traveling, reading, tennis, and rooting for the Boston Red Sox. Email her at lauren@dockwalk.com.

While we all inherently understand the crucial importance of sleep, in yachting, it’s also easily sacrificed to the demands of the job.

“Sleep and circadian rhythms are vital to health and wellbeing,” says Eliza Van Reen, CEO of Circadian Positioning Systems (CPS) in Rhode Island. “Thus, sleep and circadian rhythm alignment are vital to crew wellness and performance.” Van Reen, who has a Ph.D. from Brown University with a primary research focus in sleep and circadian rhythms, wanted to devise a scientific solution.

“Sleep and circadian rhythms are vital to health and wellbeing,” says Eliza Van Reen, CEO of Circadian Positioning Systems...

“Many industries need to work round-the-clock, and there were no good solutions to help people do this,” she says. “We decided to develop technology that helps to align your internal circadian rhythms (e.g., the time it is inside your brain) to your external environment (e.g., work schedule). This enhances performance and alertness when you’re scheduled to work and enhances sleep when you’re scheduled to sleep.” This synchronization can help with shift work or even jet lag.

Van Reen, who did her postdoctoral training at the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, founded CPS in 2017. It’s now starting to make some inroads into the yachting industry, thanks to Van Reen’s husband, Jay Mulrooney, who is a former crewmember. Mulrooney, previously first officer on M/Y Intuition, understands well the sleep challenges faced by yacht crew. As Mulrooney explains, CPS started working with crew after being awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation. “We studied yacht crew both on board and in a lab setting and successfully shifted their circadian rhythms,” he says.

“We studied yacht crew both on board and in a lab setting and successfully shifted their circadian rhythms,” he says.

This might sound like magic, so how exactly does it work? CPS uses software with data-backed circadian “light recipes” to deliver light to manipulate your circadian rhythm to match external environmental demands, Van Reen explains in a video posted on her site. The software system can be used with any smart lighting system or iPad and can be installed anywhere, and yes, that includes superyachts.

CPS can start small — as small as a wearable that coaches the crewmember or guest toward better sleep hygiene, or lighting can be added wherever it’s most needed on board, via iPad, smart lightbulb, or an LED lighting retrofit. If the lights are permanently hardwired, a controller is required that can interface with the existing onboard light control system, but by itself, CPS simply requires LEDs to work and the app controls the light output or recipes. Each yacht’s needs may differ, but the company is currently working with a few vessels that are considering upgrading the crew areas and switching to LEDs. As Van Reen says, “Our product is different from others out there because it is backed by science.”

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