“Light recipes” aim to optimize safety by aligning crew sleep/wake cycles with work schedules.
Circadian rhythms are physiological cycles that follow a 24-hour cycle. Changes to these rhythms — especially in sleep schedules — can disrupt important biological systems that affect performance, alertness, and mental well-being. Every crew member who ever stepped foot on a yacht is familiar with these effects.
“When you switch to night watch … or you travel from the U.S. to Europe to join a yacht, that disrupts this alignment between your internal circadian rhythms and the external environment,” said Eliza Van Reen, CEO of Circadian Positioning Systems.
Van Reen, who has a doctorate in experimental psychology, has spent more than 17 years researching sleep and circadian rhythms. Her company has developed a data-backed, circadian-targeted lighting system that works to help keep the body’s natural cycle aligned with work schedules, she said.
According to Van Reen, they started their work with the U.S. Navy and the Marines after fatigue was cited in several fatal wrecks. Afterward, she said, they realized all industries that work on water needed these circadian-based solutions. “There’s been repeated incidents outside of the Navy with wrecks, accidents, near misses, and oil spills.”
CPS is now focused on finding solutions for the yachting industry — not just for physical safety, but for mental health benefits as well. “If your sleep is changing, if you’re sleeping sporadically, it is usually highly correlated with mental health issues,” Van Reen said. “You can’t not sleep and have your brain work the way it’s supposed to work.”
CPS uses properly timed exposure to lights with certain spectral qualities and characteristics to align a user’s circadian rhythm with their work schedule, she said. “We can use light to shift your brain to that night shift, or we can use light ahead of time to prepare you to shift to a different time zone.”
A CPS app collects the user’s sleep-wake data using a watch-like wearable designed by the company, or a device a user might already have, such as an Apple Watch or Fitbit. The company then puts this data through its proprietary algorithms to create what it calls “light recipes,” or schedules for light exposure, that are designed to align the user’s circadian rhythm with their desired schedule.
The lighting system — which focuses on the timing, color, and spectral qualities of light exposure — is easy to install and can be used in conjunction with any smart lighting system, according to Van Reen. Yachts with the ability to control individual lights on board can also be leveraged by CPS if smart lighting isn’t available, but halogen lamps or lighting controlled by a single local switch would need to be replaced.
CPS “light recipes” can also be utilized through devices such as iPads and laptops. Although blue light from digital screens has been linked to poor sleep hygiene, it can be used to shift circadian rhythms, according to Van Reen. Suppose, for example, that you are flying from New York to California for important meetings. In that case, delaying your normal sleep phase to better align with the later time zone would be desirable.
“You’re going to want it to be later in your brain when you go to California so you’re not getting tired earlier than everybody else,” Van Reen said. “Sleep becomes better, and performance becomes better by being circadian aligned.”
Find out more at sleepcps.com.