Sleep Deprivation: A Risk for Air Ambulance Crews and Patients Alike
Everyone knows that getting eight hours of sleep is ideal. It doesn't matter if you're a college student or advanced air ambulance doctor, being well rested means a sharper mind and better health. All too often, however, people don't get enough shut eye. While the Mayo Clinic recommends that adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night, a 2011 poll by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) found that most people actually get less than seven hours of sleep, and that 15% of adults sleep less than six hours a night.
Sleep deprivation seems to be especially common among medical professionals, who often work long hours and have irregular schedules. And while there are FAA rules that mandate rest periods for pilots, a NSF study found that nearly a quarter of pilots report that sleepiness affected their on-the-job performance. That's a scary thought!
At MedFlight911 air ambulance, we always put safety first, and that includes making sure our pilots and medical crews are well rested. When we transport a patient, the patient has put their life in our hands. We don't want to take risks and cut corners. Instead, we carefully plan each air ambulance journey so that we can be sure that the entire crew is operating at their best and not overly fatigued. We adhere strictly to all FAA regulations, including those known as “Part 135” that limit the time a pilot can fly to between 8 and 14 hours – depending on other factors including the number of pilots and how much rest time will follow.
Of course, getting enough sleep isn't just important for those in high-risk jobs like medicine and aviation. And being fatigued doesn't just means dark under-eye circles and yawns. Sleepiness is often a factor in car crashes and on-the-job accidents. In fact, sleepiness was a cause of some of the biggest disasters in recent history, including the Chernobyl meltdown, the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, and the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Sleep-related accidents can, in turn, lead to a need for long-distance medical transport.
While getting seven or eight hours of sleep might not be possible every night, you can follow these tips to increase the likelihood that you'll get a decent night's sleep:
- Keep a regular sleep schedule, if possible. Consistent sleep patterns make it more likely that you'll get a good night's rest.
- Watch your diet. Caffeine or alcohol before bed can make it difficult to sleep. Eating too much (or too little) before bed can also make it hard to doze off.
- Make your bedroom sleep friendly. Many people find it easier to sleep in a cool, dark and quiet room. Choose a comfortable mattress and pillows, and try to limit how often children and pets sleep with you, if possible, since a crowded bed can make it difficult to get quality rest.
- Turn off the TV (or computer). We all probably spend too much time staring at screens. Shutting off the TV, computer, or smartphone before bed can help you begin to relax. Instead, try reading a book or taking a warm shower to get your body and mind in the mood for sleep.
- Get exercise, which can help you fall asleep faster and sleep deeper.
- Try to manage stress. Too much stress can mean a long night of tossing, turning, and worrying. Stress management techniques can help you avoid those sleepless nights.
The bottom line: Getting adequate sleep is important for everyone, whatever your occupation.