Aviation Never Sleeps

Health and Safety Aviation Never Sleeps Sleep deprivation causes more than sluggish employees-it impacts safety as well as the bottom line By Michelle GaretsonBy Joan Bittel> March 2002 247365. Winning lottery numbers? The tail number...


Health and Safety

Aviation Never Sleeps

Sleep deprivation causes more than sluggish employees-it impacts safety as well as the bottom line

By Michelle GaretsonBy Joan Bittel>

March 2002

247365. Winning lottery numbers? The tail number of the last aircraft out today? No, these numbers represent hours of availability in aviation, which means hours of availability in aviation ground support and ground handling services. While 24/7/365 offers convenience for customers, it can mean disruption and deprivation of necessary sleep for those who work within this "round the cloc" schedule. Individual sleep requirements vary, but there are many commonalities to consider and to understand in order to ensure one’s sleep needs are being met.

ClockCIRCADIAN CLOCK
Circadian comes from the Latin words circa, meaning"about" and dia, which means"day" and it refers to bodily rhythms that demonstrate variations throughout the day. The human body naturally follows a 24-hour period of waking and sleeping that is regulated by an internal circadian clock. This "cloc" is linked to nature’s cycle of light and darkness and regulates cycles in body temperature, hormones, heart rate, and other body functions.

For humans, the desire to sleep is strongest between midnight and 6 a.m. When work shifts are scheduled during the night, the worker is fighting the natural wake-sleep pattern. It is difficult to reset the internal circadian clock, which is why night workers may find it hard to stay alert on the job and experience troubles in sleeping during the day, even though they are tired.

WHY SLEEP IS IMPORTANT
Sleep provides restoration and rejuvenation for the brain and organ systems. Chronic lack of sleep harms a person’s health, on-the-job safety, task performance, memory, and mood.

According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) in Washington, D.C., when people are sleep deprived, they think and move more slowly, make more mistakes, and have difficulty remembering things, which can lead to lower job productivity and may cause accidents.

NSF studies also show that shift/night workers experience more stomach problems (especially heartburn and indigestion), menstrual irregularities, colds, flu, and weight gain than day workers. Heart problems are more likely too, along with higher blood pressure. Health insurance claims as well as workers’ compensation submissions could rise as a result.

DRIVING FACTORS
The risk of workplace and automobile accidents rises for tired shift workers, especially on the drive to and from work. If you operate heavy equipment or drive a vehicle during your shift, especially on an airport ramp, you must pay careful attention to signs of sleepiness. Yawning, frequent blinking, or a failure to make routine safety checks may put you and others at risk. If you feel drowsy, stop your work as soon as safely possible. Contact your supervisor and request a break, or have a caffeinated product in order to help increase alertness. Keep in mind that caffeine is only a short-term fix and should not be substituted for sleep.

Driving home after work can be risky for any shift. People think that opening the car windows or listening to the radio will keep them awake. However, studies show that these methods work for only a short period of time. Carpooling or taking public transport should be considered.

KEEPING ALERT AT WORK
Here are a few ways to keep alert at work to stay safe and effective on the job.

  • Take short breaks throughout the shift.
  • Try to work with a"buddy" Talking with co-workers can help keep you alert and co-workers can be on the lookout for signs of drowsiness in each other.
  • Try to exercise during breaks. Use the employee lounge, take a walk, or climb stairs.
  • If you drink a caffeinated beverage (coffee, tea, colas), do so early in the shift — before 3 a.m. for the night worker.
  • Don’t leave the most tedious or boring tasks to the end of your shift when you are apt to feel the drowsiest. Night shift workers hit their lowest period around 4 a.m.
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