Air Crew Fatigue

Sleeping at the Wrong Time

By Richard R. Grayson, M.D.

Senior Aviation Medical Examiner, Geneva, IL.

An ex-trucker patient of mine once confided that the reason he was retired on disability was because he had fallen asleep on a cold winter’s night at the wrong time.  His 18-wheeler crossed the median of a divided highway in Indiana while he nodded off. The truck jackknifed and ejected him through the windshield.  I was the only one he had ever told that his accident was caused by falling asleep at the wheel.

The literature on pilot fatigue and aircraft, train, and automobile accidents due to sleepiness is voluminous. There are many articles about “go” and “no-go” drugs used legally in the military, which are not legal for United States civilian pilots.  A good list of official recommendations is reproduced below: (from The Federal Air Surgeon's Medical Bulletin • Summer 2002   By Virgil D. Wooten, MD)

“Extensive government research into fatigue has yielded important information about techniques to improve performance and safety during prolonged and/or night-time flying. Basic principles to keep in mind are listed below. Naps are defined as intentional sleep lasting less than half the length of the major sleep period.


Email Dr. Grayson with questions or comments: Richard@DoctorGrayson. com