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Free Content Recurrent On-Duty Sleepiness and Alertness Management Strategies in Long-Haul Airline Pilots

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INTRODUCTION: We examined whether long-haul airline pilots without recurrent on-duty sleepiness obtain more prior sleep and use more effective in-flight alertness management strategies than their colleagues with recurrent on-duty sleepiness.

METHODS: There were 51 pilots who flew at least twice from Helsinki to Asia. Of them, 44 flew at least twice back to Helsinki following 1 local night. On-duty sleepiness was measured by the Karolinska Sleepiness Scale (KSS), alertness management strategies by a diary, and sleep by a diary and activity monitor. Pilots who rated KSS ≥ 7 on each, some, or none of the flights were classified as ”regularly”, “sometimes”, and “never” sleepy, respectively. This classification was performed separately for the outbound and inbound flights.

RESULTS: On the outbound flights, 22% of the pilots were “never”, 54% “sometimes”, and 24% “regularly” sleepy. For the inbound flights, the respective distribution was 25%, 48%, and 27%. Compared to the “regularly” sleepy group, the “never” sleepy group obtained 54 min more night sleep prior to the outbound flights. For the inbound flights, the respective difference was 1 h 23 min. Also, the “never” sleepy pilots slept 31 min more between days off than the ”regularly” sleepy pilots. The results of the in-flight alertness management strategies were mixed.

DISCUSSION: The study demonstrates that pilots without recurrent on-duty sleepiness obtain more sleep than their colleagues with recurrent on-duty sleepiness. The result emphasizes the need to investigate whether the sleep of recurrently sleepy pilots can be increased and whether this increase would reduce their on-duty sleepiness.

Sallinen M, Åkerstedt T, Härmä M, Henelius A, Ketola K, Leinikka M, Kecklund G, Sihvola M, Tuori A, Virkkala J, Puttonen S. Recurrent on-duty sleepiness and alertness management strategies in long-haul airline pilots. Aerosp Med Hum Perform. 2018; 89(7):601–608.
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Keywords: airline pilots; alertness management; long-haul flights; sleep; sleepiness

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 1, 2018

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  • This journal (formerly Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine), representing the members of the Aerospace Medical Association, is published monthly for those interested in aerospace medicine and human performance. It is devoted to serving and supporting all who explore, travel, work, or live in hazardous environments ranging from beneath the sea to the outermost reaches of space. The original scientific articles in this journal provide the latest available information on investigations into such areas as changes in ambient pressure, motion sickness, increased or decreased gravitational forces, thermal stresses, vision, fatigue, circadian rhythms, psychological stress, artificial environments, predictors of success, health maintenance, human factors engineering, clinical care, and others. This journal also publishes notes on scientific news and technical items of interest to the general reader, and provides teaching material and reviews for health care professionals.

    To access volumes 74 through 85, please click here.
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