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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 November, 2004, 18:26 GMT
Sailing in the land of nod
By Rob Hodgetts
BBC Sport

Mike Golding sailing Ecover
The Spanish have had it right all along - we should be taking naps through the day
Mike Golding

If there was a world "power-snoozing" championship you can bet your last tot of rum that the winner would be a solo sailor.

This breed of sportsmen have perfected the art of the catnap, often while thundering along in screeching winds, in heaving, ice-strewn seas, in the dark.

How they actually manage to get to sleep during such a maelstrom is one mystery.

But more importantly, how do they manage to drive the boat hard, day and night for months on end without keeling over from sleep deprivation - after all, an autopilot can steer but it can't change sails or shin up the mast to make repairs?

"The science is interesting but there is no real mystery to it," British Vendee Globe sailor Mike Golding told BBC Sport.

"The Spanish have had it right all along - we should be taking naps and siestas throughout the day.

"Catnaps are good for you and allow you to reduce your sleep and spend more active time awake and alert."

I never take longer than one hour and I quite frequently sleep in bursts of 17-18 minutes
Mike Golding

Golding, 44, has been working with top sleep scientist Dr Claudio Stampi, who was commissioned by Nasa to study sleep in high stress environments.

He elected to use single-handed sailors as the most appropriate medium.

And by monitoring sailors such as Golding and fellow Briton Ellen MacArthur, he has found that they can function well on a total of 4.5-5 hours sleep in a 24 hour period.

He can then tailor a sleep strategy to fit the individual.

"He's had a profound effect on me," said Golding.

"I've been able to shave at least an hour off my 24 hour sleep requirement for no loss of performance, and if anything even a little improvement.

Ellen MacArthur in the cabin of her trimaran B&Q
The cabin of a modern racing yacht is hardly conducive to blissful sleeps

And, says Golding, one of the most powerful strategies is "cluster napping".

"I never take longer than one hour and I quite frequently sleep in bursts of 17-18 minutes," he said.

"You wake only to make a small adjustment to the boat, to take it back to 100% performance, and then go straight back to sleep, huddled up fully clothed in a corner.

"It's a very useful way of building up necessary sleep without losing speed.

"It sounds dreadful but it's perfectly sustainable and we are able to get it down so low by taking these naps in short spells.

"I've had to train myself but anyone can do it."

Lone racers cannot risk oversleeping and missing wind shifts or a more dangerous situation such as the onset of a sudden violent squall requiring a reduction in sail.

MacArthur will frequently sleep clutching the autopilot remote and the ends of the sheets which control the main and headsail.

Golding, meanwhile, employs an electronic egg timer hooked into a car alarm to wake him up.

"It's extremely loud, we've had to tone it down a bit. I think health and safety would have had a freak," he said.

"But after a while I get into the rhythm of it and I get so good at it that I can set the timer and wake up before the dreaded alarm goes off."

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