Fatigue affects our ability to fly—it can impair memory, judgment, concentration, vision, and coordination. Don't let it catch up with you in the cockpit.
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The key to recognizing and combating fatigue is self-assessment—knowing your personal signs of fatigue, actively looking out for them, and making safe decisions. If you start noticing physical or mental issues, don’t just continue with business as usual. If you’re on the ground, it’s probably wise to stay there. If you’re airborne, do what you can to remain alert and consider diverting to a nearby airport. And if you’re already starting to nod off, it’s simple: Get the airplane on the ground as soon as practical.
Keep These Points in Mind:
- Eight hours of sleep. Stick to a regular sleep schedule.
- Long trips. Plan to spend the night and depart the following morning. Don’t put yourself in “need to get home” situations.
- Avoid flights that arrive after 10 p.m. If that’s not possible, get preemptive rest and consider bringing another pilot along.
- Medications. Understand potential side effects of prescription and over-the-counter medications. Avoid any that can cause drowsiness or impaired alertness.
- Consult your physician. Diagnose and treat conditions causing sleep problems.
- Limit naptime. If you must take a nap, do so for less than 30 minutes to be productive.
- Adjust bedtime by an hour a day a few days before crossing time zones to match the sleep schedule at your destination.
- Reset your watch to the destination time at the beginning of the flight to adjust more quickly to the new time zone.
- Reset your biological clock by getting out in the sun and daylight, staying active, and fitting in with the local eating and sleeping schedule.
- Talk to your doctor about OSA. It can be diagnosed through a sleep study and treatment is very effective.
- Lose weight. Just a 10-percent weight loss helps reduce the OSA Apnea-Hypopnea Index (AHI) by 25 percent.