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Flight Risks: How Scientists Are Combatting Sleep at 30,000 Feet

I’m sitting in a 777 flight simulator at the Boeing’s research facility south of downtown Seattle, and I’m exhausted. I felt alert at the controls as we departed the virtual version of San Francisco International Airport 45 minutes ago. During the takeoff and climb there’s plenty to keep my attention as veteran 777 captain and Boeing pilot Wiley Moore helps me through the procedures of flying a wide-body airliner... ( More...

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canuck44 4
Good article. Sleep has multiple parameters that not only effect brain function but the physiology of the entire body. Quality is as important as quantity and the distribution of sleep into its various periods is important.

A good analogy that I use with parents of kids with sleep related breathing disorders is that we work like laptops putting data into a cache throughout the day and when we reach a deep plane of sleep (REM) this seems to be the purging of the cache to memory. When the cache overloads, we often end up with various learning and behavioral problems for which the educators demand we throw drugs at the kids. In many instances, correction of the sleep disorder corrects the "ADHD" or whatever the term du jour happens to be.

Sleep is also important for hormone secretion particularly growth hormone and a cellular based hormone leptin that regulates the brain for energy intake and appetite suppression.

None of these act in isolation with the rest of the body. Slight reductions in oxygen tension have profound effects on some folks particularly smokers and those with chronic lung diseases or anemia.

This is great occupation specific application of established knowledge taking it from the sleep lab to the cockpit. Even more important they are looking for individual easily measured parameters that ultimately will allow for self-evaluation and monitoring.

Thanx for posting.
Tim Duggan 2
Wiley Moore....hmmm, that name rings a bell. Bet I know him from some time ago. B727 simulator instructor...but, that's going back many years.

As to fatigue, yeah. However, during periods of low workload, it's not uncommon for one pilot to have short naps, while the other is watching things.

For myself, I know well that these were very light naps...hard to explain, but it's more of a kind of meditation state. Aware of all that's going on, just relaxed...and able to snap "out" of it at a moment's notice. AND only because a person knows that there is someone else there as back-up.

Does this surprise anyone?
bentwing60 2
Well, Tim, I tell an occasional bar story (aren't they all true) about a flight from CYYZ to ADS that might refute that back-up part. Flew the leg from BRO to CYYZ in a Lear 25 with the chief pilot snoozing, off and on, in the right seat (freight, middle of the night) On the leg home, CYYZ-ADS, he's flying and I'm right seat, and the sun is rising. Level at 430, .80 mach, and it's my turn to snooze. You guessed it, I snooze for who knows how long, wake up, and look over to see the chief pilots chin resting on his chest. They don't get much more asleep. I kinda, but not really snapped "out of it" and reached over and pressed the fire warning and cabin altitude warning test switches (top of the quadrant, R side) at the same time and you shoulda seen that guy light up. Good thing he was belted in! He never went to sleep on me again, and I couldn't have busted a check ride with him again if I tried. And the statute of limitations is well up on this one.
Tim Duggan 2
Yeah, that can happen. Back in the day, when a crowbar couldn't get me out of the right seat of the DC-10, when PM on the leg it was uncanny. I still could "veg out", but instinctively know when the next waypoint was coming up on the NAT, (roughly about every 45 minutes, depending on GS) in order to make the position report. Now, less need to fuss about with the HF radios, with Sat Link.
Other industries are in the same boat with their operating people. Those in safety sensitive positions, namely locomotive engineers have the same chaotic lifestyles, never knowing exactly when you will be called for work. Sleep patterns go out the window as you try to get rest at all hours of the day or night.

During my worst period, having worked 91 trips in 90 days without time other than what was Federally mandated off-duty, ended up being more a robot than a human. After weeks of putting in 12 hour (sometimes more) days, you loose the ability to maintain situational awareness.

One can follow all the guidelines offered for "proper rest" such as blacked out rooms, eating patterns, and reduced caffeine, etcetera, you still end up with a sleep deficit. Those are not solutions.

The only real solution is predictable scheduled work/rest cycles. It's insane to suggest otherwise.
rodney harris 1


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