The Naval Health Research Center's (NHRC) Warfighter Performance Department is working with Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) to implement a wearable device that monitors sleep, fatigue, and health among Sailors over the course of several underway periods as part of the Crew Readiness, Endurance, and Watchstanding (CREW) study.
The overall goal of CREW, a new program developed by NHRC in conjunction with Commander, Naval Surface Forces, is to identify individuals in the pre-symptomatic window of a transmittable disease and to be used as a tool for leadership to monitor essential watchstanders and personnel who are at a high risk of fatigue. This program was created in response to recent incidents involving fatigued watchstanders throughout the fleet. Watchstanding
“We want CREW to be a decision support tool so that you can understand how fatigued people are and how much sleep they are or are not getting,” explained Dr. Rachel Markwald, a sleep physiologist from NHRC. “We can then determine how those fatigue levels correspond with the health of the individual so that we can provide a way or course of action to offset some of the risks that come with fatigue and poor health.”
The long-term goal of CREW is to serve as a tool for command leadership to use in making educated decisions about a Sailor’s sleep pattern and or their level of fatigue.
“Sleep is essential,” said Hospitalman Niderra Jennings, a Sailor aboard Essex. “Without enough rest, it [is] harder to do our jobs; with minimal sleep, it’s easy to make simple mistakes. A full night’s sleep keeps us fully alert and focused on the mission.”
Essex is the first ship to participate in this study, which utilizes innovative technology such as a ring and bracelet to automatically detect the wearer’s sleep pattern. The devices detect dangerous fatigue levels while identifying other crew endurance threats, such as illness and infections like COVID-19. Markwald has reported positive feedback from the Essex Sailors involved in her study.
“In [the] engineering department, we work long hours on top of the watches we stand underway and operate heavy machinery,” said Hull Maintenance Technician 2nd Class Alexandra Kleist, who is assigned to Essex. “We are always working on big jobs to ensure the ship functions at the highest possible level. I think that if the Navy sees how much sleep we are getting and how much that can impact the ship and the safety of its Sailors, hopefully they can implement changes for the future.”
When asked if Sailors seeing the data of their sleep might change or benefit them in any way, Dr. Markwald said, “We are in the early stages of this program. We have started implementing technology like this, collecting info, and learning how best to present that data back to the Sailor or Marine, which is so important to it all.”
Dr. Markwald goes on to say, “Sometimes it can just take one good night of sleep to get back to feeling yourself again.”
Essex, home ported in San Diego, is underway conducting routine operations in U.S. Third Fleet.