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Navy tests wearable devices to monitor, manage fatigue

By
Jonna Lorenz
Underclass Midshipmen sleep on each other as they wait for the start of the 2016 Graduation and Commissioning Ceremony at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., on May 27, 2016. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
Underclass Midshipmen sleep on each other as they wait for the start of the 2016 Graduation and Commissioning Ceremony at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., on May 27, 2016. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 20 (UPI) -- The U.S. Navy is deploying wearable devices, such as smart watches and smart rings, to monitor and manage fatigue among sailors, the Naval Health Research Center said.

Rachel Markwald, a sleep and human performance research physiologist at the research center, told Stars & Stripes that the devices are part of an effort to develop digital capability to optimize scheduling and staffing decisions based on fatigue risk.

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Adequate rest for service members became a pressing issue in 2017, after fatigue was found to be a factor in two deadly ship collisions, leading to the Navy issuing an instruction directing leaders to ensure sailors get a minimum of seven hours of restful sleep a day.

A Government Accountability Office report released in May found that only 14% of Navy officers get adequate sleep. Another study, led by researchers at the University of Texas and released in March, reported a 45-fold increase in insomnia from 2005 to 2019 among those who serve in the U.S. military.

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"You can't manage what you're not monitoring," Markwald said. "So, if you imagine a department head who's looking at a dashboard with their crew and you can see who's well rested versus who's not, then you can basically pull out from that if someone has a high fatigue level because of sleep deprivation."

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About 250 sailors and 50 Marines wore smart bracelets and rings aboard the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex as part of a study to track sleep patterns, heart and breathing rates, and other measures, Military.com reported.

They were among the first to take part in the Crew Readiness, Endurance and Watchstanding study in collaboration with Naval Surface Force U.S. Pacific Fleet. NHRC launched the study after the Navy announced an updated Comprehensive Fatigue and Endurance Management Program in December.

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NHRC has conducted trials of the wearable devices on the USS Essex twice so far and plans to expand the trials to the USS Fitzgerald, USS Higgins and USS Manchester as part of its pilot program.

"One of the things you want to do in an operational risk management approach is identify hazards or threats, and then you assess the level of risk associated with that hazard," Markwald told Stars & Stripes.

"So, if we think about it like sleep deprivation is the hazard, which it is, what's that level of risk?"

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