JOURNAL ARTICLE

In-flight sleep, pilot fatigue and Psychomotor Vigilance Task performance on ultra-long range versus long range flights

Philippa H Gander, T Leigh Signal, Margo J van den Berg, Hannah M Mulrine, Sarah M Jay, Captain Jim Mangie
Journal of Sleep Research 2013, 22 (6): 697-706
23889686
This study evaluated whether pilot fatigue was greater on ultra-long range (ULR) trips (flights >16 h on 10% of trips in a 90-day period) than on long range (LR) trips. The within-subjects design controlled for crew complement, pattern of in-flight breaks, flight direction and departure time. Thirty male Captains (mean age = 54.5 years) and 40 male First officers (mean age = 48.0 years) were monitored on commercial passenger flights (Boeing 777 aircraft). Sleep was monitored (actigraphy, duty/sleep diaries) from 3 days before the first study trip to 3 days after the second study trip. Karolinska Sleepiness Scale, Samn-Perelli fatigue ratings and a 5-min Psychomotor Vigilance Task were completed before, during and after every flight. Total sleep in the 24 h before outbound flights and before inbound flights after 2-day layovers was comparable for ULR and LR flights. All pilots slept on all flights. For each additional hour of flight time, they obtained an estimated additional 12.3 min of sleep. Estimated mean total sleep was longer on ULR flights (3 h 53 min) than LR flights (3 h 15 min; P(F) = 0.0004). Sleepiness ratings were lower and mean reaction speed was faster at the end of ULR flights. Findings suggest that additional in-flight sleep mitigated fatigue effectively on longer flights. Further research is needed to clarify the contributions to fatigue of in-flight sleep versus time awake at top of descent. The study design was limited to eastward outbound flights with two Captains and two First Officers. Caution must be exercised when extrapolating to different operations.

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