Sleepy Air Traffic Controllers: Worrisome But Not Surprising

Recently we’ve been hit by a barrage of news stories about American air traffic controllers falling asleep.  As these are the people who ensure that planes carrying hundreds of other people land safely, this is truly worrisome.  Unfortunately, however, it’s not surprising.

The sole reason for SleepBetter’s existence is that individuals in the U.S. and across the world don’t get enough sleep, regardless of their job.  According to various studies, up to 70% of Americans don’t get the eight to nine hours of sleep that is recommended for good health and productivity.  What’s scarier is that according to one recent study, nearly 40% get six hours or fewer every night … and about 15% get five or fewer hours every night.

Added to the problems identified by the above statistics is the fact that many air traffic controllers work third shift, or overnights.  Sleep experts say as many as 30 to 50% of night shift workers report falling asleep on the job at least once every week.  Even though they literally have people’s lives in their hands, why should air traffic controllers be any different?

We’ll leave the solution to the air traffic controller problem to the Federal Aviation Administration, but here are some tips on how you can handle working overnights:

  1. Unfortunately, when you first switch to the overnight shift, caffeine may be your best friend. As you get used to the new shift, however, try to wean yourself away from drinking coffee, caffeinated sodas, or energy drinks in the second half of your eight-hour shift.
  2. Just like with a daytime shift, work out a sleep schedule and stick to it. Since you’re going to be keeping somewhat abnormal hours anyhow, your schedule when you’re working overnights is up to you.  Some people function better when they sleep immediately after work.  Others stay awake for a few hours after work, and then sleep. However you do it, try to get at least eight hours of sack time.
  3. Turn your bedroom into a cave. It’s hard to sleep when you know the rest of the world is wide awake in the sunshine.  Get room darkening shades, and if necessary put black poster board over your windows.  Make your sleep environment as much like nighttime as possible.
  4. Avoid alcohol while your body is adjusting to your new schedule.  Alcohol can make your sleep time less restful, and its impact can be magnified if you’re sleep deprived.
  5. Try to stick close to your overnight schedule even on your off days.

For more help, read our 17 Healthful Sleep Tips!