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Erasmus MC to study stress in sailing crew

Erasmus MC aims to study the impact of stress exposure on the Team AkzoNobel sailing crew in the Volvo Ocean Race.

Volvo Ocean Race
Health effects
The researchers expect to obtain insight into how the human body responds to prolonged exposure to extreme physical and psychic stress and sleep-wake disturbance encountered during the heavily demanding Volvo Ocean Race. What are the short and long term health effects of chronic stress exposure and are these effects reversible?

The longest sailing contest in the world, the Volvo Ocean Race, requires both physical and psychological efforts and endurance of its participants. Over a nine-month period, the sailors (a team of 8 men and two women) travel around the world and are exposed to extreme weather conditions during which they have to provide heavy physical labor, encounter a disturbed sleep-wake pattern, have to make split-second crucial decisions in the middle of the ocean, far from their relatives.

In addition, the 4 hour on/4 hour off watch system disrupts the biological (circadian) clock of the sailors. This internal body clock generates 24-hour rhythms and adjusts behavior, physiology and metabolism to the particular need at specific times of the day, and as such allows us to anticipate daily-recurring changes in our environment.

Sleep-wake cycle
Known examples of clock-controlled biological processes are hormone secretion (e.g. cortisol), cardiac rhythm, body temperature, blood pressure, immune responses and the sleep-wake cycle. Evidence is increasing that (chronic) disturbance of the circadian clock not only leads to acute complaints such as fatigue, sleep deprivation, impaired performance and alertness, but also increases later life health risk (e.g. cardiometabolic disease, mental illness).

To date, relatively little is known about how and to what extent the sailor's body deals with this combination of physical and psychic stress and long-term disruption of day-night rhythms, how this affects sleep and on sporting performance, and what short and long term health effects are associated with these conditions. This unprecedented multidisciplinary research proposal, involving Team AkzoNobel, aims at providing an answer to these questions.

Prof.dr. Bert van der Horst, professor in Chronobiology and Health at the Erasmus MC, leads the research: "The sailors are well-trained and fit, both physically and mentally. They wear activity watches to track their sleep-wake rhythms. Before, during and after the race we collect blood and hair in order to measure levels of stress hormones. These data are then combined with the sailors' log. With this unique approach, we expect to obtain insight into how the human body responds to prolonged exposure to extreme physical, psychic and circadian stress as encountered during the heavily demanding Volvo Ocean Race."

Read the full press release
Volvo Ocean Race
 

Date published: 5 February 2018.

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