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Free Content Subjective Measurements of In-Flight Sleep, Circadian Variation, and Their Relationship with Fatigue

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BACKGROUND: This study examined whether subjective measurements of in-flight sleep could be a reliable alternative to actigraphic measurements for monitoring pilot fatigue in a large-scale survey.

METHODS: Pilots (3-pilot crews) completed a 1-page survey on outbound and inbound long-haul flights crossing 1–7 time zones (N = 586 surveys) between 53 city pairs with 1-d layovers. Across each flight, pilots documented flight start and end times, break times, and in-flight sleep duration and quality if they attempted sleep. They also rated their fatigue (Samn-Perelli Crew Status Check) and sleepiness (Karolinska Sleepiness Scale) at top of descent (TOD). Mixed model ANCOVA was used to identify independent factors associated with sleep duration, quality, and TOD measures. Domicile time was used as a surrogate measure of circadian phase.

RESULTS: Sleep duration increased by 10.2 min for every 1-h increase in flight duration. Sleep duration and quality varied by break start time, with significantly more sleep obtained during breaks starting between (domicile) 22:00–01:59 and 02:00–05:59 compared to earlier breaks. Pilots were more fatigued and sleepy at TOD on flights arriving between 02:00–05:59 and 06:00–09:59 domicile time compared to other flights. With every 1-h increase in sleep duration, sleepiness ratings at TOD decreased by 0.6 points and fatigue ratings decreased by 0.4 points.

DISCUSSION: The present findings are consistent with previous actigraphic studies, suggesting that self-reported sleep duration is a reliable alternative to actigraphic sleep in this type of study, with use of validated measures, sufficiently large sample sizes, and where fatigue risk is expected to be low.

van den Berg MJ, Wu LJ, Gander PH. Subjective measurements of in-flight sleep, circadian variation, and their relationship with fatigue. Aerosp Med Hum Perform. 2016; 87(10):869–875.

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Keywords: fatigue risk management systems; self-reported sleep duration; subjective fatigue and sleepiness

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2016

More about this publication?
  • 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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