Your Pilot Medical May Not Tell if You Need Sleep

FAR Medical Certification

Pilot medical exams don’t take into account how much time you’re on your phone in bed, but your quantity and quality of sleep will let you know

Each time we fly, we are confirming that we meet the requirements for our pilot medical, including the fact that we are well rested. But the use of cell phones just before we go to bed at night may have a significant negative effect on the quality of our sleep, and our performance may suffer the following day.

Ten minutes of using a smartphone close to your face just before going to sleep is about the equivalent of one-hour walk in bright daylight. Imagine coming in from a long walk in the middle of the day and then expecting your body to be able to shut itself down for a good restful sleep? That rarely happens.

The effect of smartphones on sleep was the focus of a research study conducted at the JFK Medical Center. The results were disturbing, especially for teenagers, but we can add adults into the mix too. We’re never more than a foot away from our phones, just like our kids, and the effects can be significant if we spend time on our phones before turning out the lights.

The yearlong study led to the conclusion that late night texting and phone use is contributing to a chronically sleep deprived population of both teenagers and adults. The quality and quantity of sleep are important for organizing our thoughts, memory consolidation, and academic performance, all critical items for professional pilots.

Our brains need time to unwind and disconnect before falling asleep. Unfortunately the delayed sleep onset caused by staring at blue light, or even any light wave, interrupts the release of melatonin, making it difficult to get good rest. 

The study demonstrates that our performance is directly affected by a lack of restful sleep, which could be a direct factor in the safety of a flight conducted the following day. When you say that your pilot medical is current and you are qualified to fly, make sure that you really were resting the night before, not up texting or on social media. Your flying ability depends on it!

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