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Do pilots take turn sleeping?

Do pilots take turn sleeping?

By Alison Godfrey, | Apr. 23, 2013

Pilots need to sleep too. But where do they do it? And are the beds better than first class?

Richard Woodward was the first Qantas pilot to fly the A380. He told pilots get a maximun of four hours sleep at a time.

The pilot rest rooms on the A380 are located inside the first cockpit door adjacent to the business class lounge. On one side of the staircase up to the cockpit is a toilet, on the other side there are two sleep pods.

They’re not flash like first class. But they do have a flat bed, a seat, an in-flight entertainment unit and their own air conditioning control.

«The bed is relatively wide. It’s built for the 95th percentile adult male, some tall pilots do have problems though,» Cap Woodward said.

«The mattress is made from foam and is three inches thick. Most pilots sleep with a blanket over and under them and then they strap themselves in with a seatbelt in case of turbulence.»

«In the A380 the crew cabins are almost black when you turn the lights out. Each room has an individual air conditioning control so pilots can adjust the temperature. There’s just enough space to stand up and get changed.»

«It’s reasonably quiet but I tend to sleep with ear plugs because you can hear the passengers in the business class lounge if they are chatting and laughing. You can hear the cabin crew shutting the cockpit door because it is bullet proof and takes quite a force to shut. «

Pilots can also hear tone signals sent up to the aircraft from ground control along the flight path.

«That can be pretty annoying.»

Most pilots develop a little routine for going to bed during the flight. They change out of their uniform into shorts and T-shirt or first class pyjamas.

«You need a routine to force your body to relax. You have to put work you have just done out of your mind.»

It’s kind of like completing a deadline and then going to the cubicle next door and going to sleep. But it’s much more noisy than a normal office.

«The noise level at home would be around 45 decibels, a conversation would be 55-65 decibels on the A380 it would be 72-73 decibels.»

A 2010 study by Gregory Roach, David Darwent and Drew Dawson published in the journal of Ergonomics found sleeping in the plane bed gave pilots a sleep that was only 70 per cent of the quality of a snooze in a proper on the ground bed.

To increase the restoration provided by in-flight sleep, the study authors recommended airlines «take measures to improve the quality, or increase the amount, of sleep obtained by pilots during flights.»

Captain Woodward was involved with the study. He said pilots never get restorative sleep on flights. The sleep they do get is just enough to fight off fatigue.

«The main thing is because we fly such long distances and stay such a short time we never really get over the jet lag so the sleep in the bunk is definitely appreciated.»

Do pilots take turn sleeping?

Have you ever flown on a vacation to Hong Kong or on business to Europe and wondered why you’re ready for bed at noon or hungry at 3 AM? If so, you’ve experienced what many people call «Jet Lag.»

Jet lag is caused by travelling at great speeds over many time zones. This unbalances the «circadian rhythms,» or biological lock, which is set by the pineal gland (a tiny organ in the brain). Eye cells send light and darkness messages to this gland, which releases melatonin (a sleep-inducing hormone) in response to darkness. Thus, abrupt changes in time zones can upset melatonin production, which ultimately unbalances the body’s sleep-wake cycle. These biological functions, combined with travel-related physical and emotional stress, cause jet lag.

Common symptoms of jet lag include headaches, irritability, upset stomach, sleeplessness, gastric discomfort, chills and inability to concentrate. Symptoms may be worse if you are travelling west to east (away from the sun), because light helps to preserve the body’s equilibrium. Travel from east to west (to an earlier time zone) results in fewer jet lag symptoms, and travelling northward or southward does not affect the body’s circadian rhythms at all.

Experts say it takes one day for every time zone crossed to recover from jet lag symptoms. For example, if you cross six time zones, it will take six days to feel like your old self again. Although there are many methods for minimizing jet lag, it is impossible to eliminate it entirely.

One suggested method of minimizing jet lag effects is to drink plenty of water before, during and after the flight. Some doctors recommend that you drink two eight-ounce glasses of water right before departure. Dehydration is highly possible during airplane travel, due to dry cabin air. It results in diminished blood flow to your muscles, reduced kidney functions and fatigue, all of which induce jet lag. You can prevent dehydration by drinking one liter of water for every six hours of flight in addition to beverages you drink with meals. Even if you may not be thirsty, it is important to drink water on a regular basis throughout the flight, because the body’s thirst mechanism does not warn you early about dehydration.

Researchers are now looking into «light therapy,» which is a method of re-adjusting the body’s inner clock by controlling exposure to natural and artificial full spectrum light. One step in this strategy is to expose yourself to daylight as soon as possible once you arrive at your destination. Researchers also advise that you turn on your overhead light during your flight when it is daylight at your destination and turn off your light, or wear an eyeshade, when it is night there.

Another recent research strategy suggests melatonin capsules as a possible method of combating jet lag fatigue. Melatonin is a hormone marketed as a dietary supplement to assist with sleep and jet lag. Melatonin is a naturally produced in the pineal gland. Concentrations in the blood vary throughout the day. Levels are higher during the hours of sleep and lower during the waking hours. The amount of ambient light seems to control this variation.

Jet lag may be caused by the delay in synchronizing melatonin levels to match the hours of daylight and darkness after flying across time zones. So possibly readjusting melatonin levels could help with symptoms and sleep schedules.

Because melatonin is marketed as a dietary supplement, the Food and Drug Administration has no regulatory control over this product. Manufacturers are not required to prove the purity of their product or that the amount of drug stated to be in the product is accurate.

Studies on the use of melatonin for jet lag are promising, but further research is needed. First, the number of people studied thus far is very small. We don’t know enough about side effects and interactions of the melatonin with other drugs and medical conditions. More study on the safety of melatonin is needed.

More conventional hypnotic sleeping medication could be used for one or two doses to regulate the sleep cycle in jet lag. Studies among USAF military pilots have recently demonstrated benefits for sleep and alertness with the short term use of the hypnotic zolpidem, marketed as Ambien, prior to desired sleep times. All medication, whether prescription or not, should be discussed with your doctor prior to use.

Aside from these interventions, you can take a number of simple steps to improve your ability to ward off jet lag. Improved Physical conditioning during the two to three weeks before your trip can help increase your stamina and thereby reduce the fatigue caused by travel-related stress. And according to reports from airline crews, it is helpful to take non-stop flights and to schedule your departing flight in the morning, when you are most ready for a full day’s worth of activities.

In addition, following a few simple «do’s and don’ts» can help:

Don’t smoke, drink large amounts of alcohol, or take unnecessary medication while in flight.
Do get a decent night’s sleep before your flight.
Do try to get some sleep during long flights.
Do exercise while on board the plane by stretching, walking about the cabin, and doing fitness exercises in your chair (like squeezing a tennis ball for seven counts and then releasing).
Much of the stiffness and the uncomfortable, dazed feeling following a flight is simply the result of sitting inactively for long periods of time. You may want to ask airline representatives if they can provide a brochure for in-flight exercises.

Finally, limiting your activities the first day after your arrival will yield more hours of fun and productivity in the end.

With high speed jet travel, the world has certainly become a smaller place. Incorporating these recommendations into your trip plans should help take the «lag» out of jet travel.

11 Genius Ways Flight Attendants and Pilots Beat Jet Lag

Doug Murray

Long flights are hard enough on the body. But the discomfort doesn’t end at the baggage carousel. Jet lag or desynchronosis can plague us long after we’ve arrived at our destination. It occurs when our internal body clock gets knocked for a loop if we travel over many time zones. Symptoms include insomnia, fatigue, irritability and more — and affects can last for several days. So, how do you beat jet lag? We asked the experts — flight crews. Their techniques vary, so we recommend you try each one to see which works best for you. Bon voyage!

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Pro jet lag tip: get some sleep

Most flight attendants and pilots recommend getting the right amount of sleep at the right time. Speaking to Insider, flight attendant Melanie Glessing explains that she tries to sleep as much as possible wherever she can. She says that on international flights, crews usually head to bed as soon as they arrive at their hotel. After two hours, they’ll get up and continue with their day.

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Pro jet lag tip: wait until bedtime in the new timezone

Another school of thought is to wait until it’s nighttime in the new time zone before going to bed. Flight attendant Taylor Reynolds told Insider that her trick is to stay up until bedtime and then have a good night’s sleep.

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Pro jet lag tip: the 10:30AM rule

Pilot Mark Vanhoenacker uses his 10:30AM rule to reduce his jet lag. He explained to the Daily Mail that If he gets home or to his hotel before 10:30AM, he’ll sleep for a few hours, then get up and stay up until bedtime. If it’s after 10:30AM, he’ll force himself to stay up until a reasonable bedtime.

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Pro jet lag tip: get lots of daylight

Getting lots of daylight helps pilot Helen MacNamara beat jet lag. She told the Daily Mail that she recommends sitting outside in the bright sun even if your internal clock thinks it’s midnight — and then going to sleep at bedtime.

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Pro jet lag tip: get some exercise

Many flight attendants also suggest getting some exercise if you’re trying to stay awake until bedtime at your destination. Whether it’s hitting the gym or going for a walk, just getting the blood pumping will help with fatigue. Speaking of working out, here are 15 big benefits of early morning exercise.

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Pro jet lag tip: consider your direction of travel

Speaking with the Daily Mail, pilot Kat Woodruffe says the direction you travel is an important consideration. Her method when travelling east is to avoid sleeping in. Whereas travelling west, stay up until a normal bedtime but do some kind of activity like sightseeing around 5PM, when you’re likely to hit a wall.

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Pro jet lag tip: don’t sleep in

If you’re trying not to sleep in, Kat Woodruffe also recommends keeping the curtains open so that the sun wakes you up. If you think it might not be enough to wake you, then set an alarm and place it across the room so you have to get up to turn it off.

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Pro jet lag tip: use an eye mask

An eye mask is another highly recommended solution from flight attendants and pilots. It helps you sleep on the plane and at your destination if it’s too bright. You might also think about earplugs. You can find these and lots of other travel essentials at your local dollar store.

Different time zones

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Pro jet lag tip: train yourself

According to Well and Good, some flight attendants recommend preparing in advance for your destination’s time zone. This could mean changing the time you go to bed in the days before you travel or even setting your watch to your destination’s time zone.

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Pro jet lag tip: limit coffee

Cabin crew members agree that caffeine should be avoided. Flight attendant Camille John told the Daily Mail that while coffee can provide a jolt of energy, it can also make it hard to fall asleep when you want to. She suggests sticking with water. Here are some other ways to fight sleepiness and look awake.

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Pro jet lag tip: eat right

Healthy eating can help beat jet lag. As Well and Good says, avoid processed foods and those with lots of sugar. It can be difficult to find healthy fare on a plane, so bring your own. Don’t forget to keep hydrated as well. If you want to get some shut-eye on your flight, here are 20 tricks falling asleep on a plane.

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