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Wednesday, 21 February, 2001, 03:11 GMT
Ellen's sleep secrets
Ellen enlisted an expert to help her manage her sleep
Ellen MacArthur's exploits in the Vendee Globe have already taken on legendary proportions, but her success owes almost as much to her ability to nap as it does to her ability to sail. BBC South's Southern Eye followed Ellen's attempts to manage her sleep - and get around the globe before dangerous fatigue set in.

Throughout her journey, Ellen MacArthur was under under extreme pressure to sleep as little as possible.

But losing out on sleep can makes you more likely to lose concentration or have an accident, which could be fatal for a solo sailor.

Ellen enlisted the help of a neurologist and world expert on sleep and alertness management, Dr Claudio Stampi, who trained her to sleep more like a baby.

Ellen got just 1.7 hours sleep one day (picture: APP Sports News)
This way Ellen managed to survive on about five-and-a-half hours' sleep a day, but never in one chunk. Instead, she divided it into short naps.

Her average time asleep was just 36 minutes and during her 94-day voyage Ellen had 891 naps.

Dr Stampi says: "What Ellen is doing is finding the best compromise between her need to sleep and her need to be awake all the time.

The best compromise appears to be like cats and dogs and most animals, which is to break up sleep into short naps."

Symptoms of sleep deprivation
Mood swings and depression
Lack of concentration
Increased risk of accidents
Decreased performance at work
Inability to think creatively

This enabled Ellen to sleep as efficiently as possible, to make the most of her time in the sack and maximise her active sailing time.

She also managed to avoid sleep deprivation, which can cause mistakes to be made and in severe cases can cause hallucinations.

Dr Stampi says: "The effects of sleep deprivation are innumerous...huge mood swings. We've seen that with Ellen. You lose the ability of self judgement."

Back in Southampton after her incredible voyage

Ellen also said that during her voyage she made use of a sixth sense, which enabled her to wake up whenever the boat needed her attention.

"I can't describe the mechanism which makes me wake up because I just do it.

"Because you are on something which is moving 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week, that's what makes you so aware of what is going on around you - because you are pushing, you are racing and every time you sleep then the boat is losing out.

"I often find that if I do sleep, I will sleep for 40 minutes and if the wind changes I wake up."

Sleeping in naps enabled Ellen to get enough of the replenishing, restorative, deep sleep, but in a shorter time.

But what of her sleep since her triumphant finish? She's barely slept at all. She says she's been far too busy enjoying herself.


Southern Eye: Sleepless in the South will be aired at 19:30GMT on Thursday 22 February on BBC TWO.

Ellen MacArthur in the Vendee Globe race

Home-coming heroine

Race news

Background

PHOTO GALLERIES

AUDIO/VIDEO

SPORTSTALK
See also:

15 Feb 01 | Vendee Globe
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