The young racer had been sailing for days without sleep, but he was ahead of the fleet in the Solitaire du Figaro, a grueling, singlehanded race off the coast of France. Sailing into the harbor to the cheers of the crowd, he stepped from his boat onto the wharf to accept their congratulations—then his safety harness jerked him back. There were no crowds, no wharf. He was standing on the gunwale of his boat surrounded by empty ocean. “I’ve heard similar stories from a couple of other sailors,” Damien Davenne, a chronobiologist with STAPS University in Caen, France, told me. “When they are hallucinating, they can’t tell what’s real and what’s not. It is believed that sailors have been lost at sea after stepping off the boat.”

Chronobiology is a young science dedicated to the study of biological rhythms—literally, the biology of time. STAPS university focuses on the science and techniques of sports and physical activities, and many French solo sailors consult its staff to help them manage their sleep while racing. But sleep deprivation is an issue that affects not just racers, but cruisers as well.

In fact, hallucinations are just one symptom of sleep deprivation, and it’s not only single-handed sailors who go too long without enough sleep. Most cruising boats make ocean passages shorthanded, often with only a husband and

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