7 Ways to Prevent Pilot Fatigue

Airline pilots must be well rested and focused before they are legally allowed to take off. Read on for 7 ways to prevent pilot fatigue to keep you flying.

Did you know that pilot fatigue is one of the biggest threats to air safety?

That's right, being well-rested is one of the most important things you can do as a pilot to ensure a safe flight. 

However, the life of a pilot doesn't exactly go hand in hand with rest. Crazy schedules, time zone changes, and other factors can all take a toll on the body and lead to fatigue. 

Unfortunately, if you are fatigued at the start of a flight, it's only going to get worse. That's why prevention is the best way to combat pilot fatigue. 

But what exactly can you do to prevent pilot fatigue? Read this article to find out the top seven ways. 


First, let's take a quick look at what causes pilot fatigue, as this will help you better understand how to prevent it. 

Pilot fatigue may be caused by:

  • Excessive physical or mental exertion
  • Poor sleep quality
  • Inadequate sleep quality
  • Circadian rhythm disturbances due to working nights
  • Circadian rhythm disturbances due to jet lag
  • Medical Conditions
  • Medications or supplements

1. Fuel Up On Food

Food is energy. And just like a plane can't run without the appropriate energy stores, neither can your body.

So, you need to make sure you are eating the right food, in the right amount, and at the right times in order to prevent pilot fatigue.

First of all, you need to avoid sugary, processed foods as much as possible. We realize this can be incredibly difficult when you're on the go, but eating the right foods is essential for keeping your energy levels up.

Focus on eating wholesome foods, like fruits, vegetables, lean meats, nuts, and seeds. 

You'll also want to load up on foods that are high in complex carbs before a big flight. Some options include potatoes, lentils, beans, pasta, and oatmeal. These foods will help keep your glycogen levels in check so you don't crash (no pun intended).

Also, because the life of a pilot is physically demanding, you want to make sure you are eating enough food as well. You can use this calculator to determine how many calories you should be eating a day. 


2. Shed Extra Weight

Ok, even with the physically demanding lifestyle, you still may be packing a few extra pounds around the waist. 

Staying in shape while traveling so much can be tough, and before you know it, extra pounds can creep up on you. 

Shedding this extra weight can make a huge difference in energy levels. Look into revving up your exercise routine or cutting back on your portions to help shed these extra pounds. 

And not having access to a gym is no excuse- here's an 11-minute fighter pilot's workout you can do anywhere. 

3. Drink Plenty of Water 

Dehydration is perhaps one of the biggest energy zappers out there. 

And prolonged dehydration will put you on the fast track to pilot fatigue.

So, drink water. Lots and lots of water.

While most people try to follow the "eight glasses a day rule," this amount actually doesn't work out for everyone. 

Bigger bodies need more water, and smaller ones need less. Therefore, you should be drinking until your pee is almost clear. 

4. Take a Nap

According to NASA, 26 minutes is all it takes to significantly improve performance and alertness. 

Try to squeeze in one of these naps before briefs or flight operations in order to combat fatigue and improve your performance. 

Just make sure you set a timer or have someone wake you up. You don't want to nap too long, as this can cause grogginess and lead to more fatigue. 

5. Get Enough Sleep

This one's obviously easier said than done.

Getting enough sleep is a tricky business for everyone, let alone those who are dealing with wacky schedule changes and different time zones.

The recommended amount of sleep is somewhere between 7-9 hours a night. If you are getting less than this, you will most certainly experience performance deficits. 

Make use of ear plugs and sleep masks in order to make sure you aren't being disturbed if your schedule requires you to sleep during daylight hours. 

It's also a good idea to keep a log of your sleep hours so that you don't accumulate too much sleep debt. 

Typically, you can erase sleep debate by getting in a third of the accumulated debt. For example, if you accumulated 9 hours of sleep debt, you should be back to normal with an additional three hours of sleep. 

Try to get these hours in as soon as possible. If you can't, take care of it over your weekend. 

6. Take Care of Jet Lag

Jet lag is pretty much what you sign up for when you embark on a career as a pilot. 

However, in order to combat pilot fatigue, you'll want to take steps to rid yourself of jet lag asap. 

Tips for preventing jet lag include:

  • Switch your watch to your destination time a few days in advance
  • Slowly switch your wake-sleep cycle to as early as possible
  • Seek daylight during wake time hours

7. Be Smart About Caffeine

We all know how awesome caffeine is. 

However, a healthy relationship with caffeine can quickly spiral into a dependency and a mask for sleep deprivation.

You should treat caffeine as an extra boost to promote alertness, not as a necessary medicine you're throwing back every hour. 

Pure sources of caffeine, like coffee, tea, and dark chocolate, are your best bet. Avoid sugar energy drinks and sodas as much as possible.

Also, make sure you are sticking to the recommended dosage of 100-200mg every 5 hours. 

Pilot Fatigue Wrap Up 

You may think you have nothing to worry about if your fatigue is only minor. 

However, even the slightest level of fatigue can lead to a huge decline in human performance. 

Remember, fatigue can quickly lead to:

  • Dramatic decline in attention
  • Decreased ability to reason and evaluate
  • Increased irritability
  • Deterioration of fine motor skills
  • Poor judgment and poor concentration

If the above prevention methods are not doing the trick, it may be time to see a doctor. You may have an underlying medical condition that is causing your pilot fatigue. 

Got questions about pilot fatigue or any extra tips you'd like to share? Drop a comment below or contact us today!