Sleep Deprivation vs Insomnia: how Aviation Organisations can help

30 Jun 2019 8:20 PMRosemary Clancy

With the best will in the world aviation organisations can structure rosters to safeguard employees' opportunity to sleep. But this can't of itself prevent insomnia & fatigue affecting employees.

Sleep deprivation is ability to sleep but not enough opportunity to sleep. Insomnia is enough opportunity to sleep but seemingly lost ability to sleep.

Sleep Deprivation vs Insomnia: how Aviation Organisations can help

With the best will in the world aviation organisations can structure rosters to safeguard employees' opportunity to sleep. But this can't of itself prevent insomnia & fatigue affecting employees.

  • Sleep deprivation is ability to sleep but not enough opportunity to sleep.
  • Insomnia is enough opportunity to sleep but seemingly lost ability to sleep.

Sleep deprivation is what the organisation can structure rosters to prevent; insomnia is ultimately the employee's responsibility. (But an organisation's culture can make it easier for an employee to overcome insomnia; more on this shortly).

An aircraft can be outfitted with a dark, lie-flat Designated Rest Facility and a schedule for pilots to use it.  But using it as scheduled is fraught in insomnia.

This sleep-conducive environment creates expectation to sleep "on demand", provoking sleep performance anxiety, and frustrated wakefulness. Then, in a typical insomnia irony, a pilot who earlier tries and fails to get scheduled sleep then becomes drowsy back in the cockpit.  Precisely where there is an absence of pressure to sleep, and in fact, a demand to stay awake. 

This is the paradox of insomnia, where setting up an ideal sleep environment creates higher expectation of, and higher pressure to, sleep. Expecting to sleep, but having doubts, the pilot's sleep effort ramps up, and wakefulness follows. The harder you try, the more elusive sleep is.  Then expecting to stay awake, the pressure and effort to sleep is off, and sleep naturally takes over.

An organisation safeguarding against sleep deprivation is still baseline safety.  After that, to teach employees sleep is to teach them about the insomnia paradox, sleep expectation and the sleep-conducive actions that are meant to induce sleep, but actually hinder it.  In a Fair/Just Culture CRIP acknowledges just how normal and universal periodic insomnia is. And takes the threat out of it. Result: better sleep.

#NotMake,LetSleepHappen #insomniahelp #humanfactors #safetynaps

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