WSU Sleep Center helping keep pilots awake


In a five-piece report I wrote earlier this year, on cool stuff that local universities taught us during the school year, I talked about sleep research that was conducted at WSU-Spokane's Sleep and Performance Research Center. In that research, the center was looking at how fatigue affected brain function. (They found that fatigue doesn't necessarily affect your ability to make decisions, but it may warp the ideas you base your decisions on.)

For the story, I used the analogy of a drowsy pilot who needed to make critical decisions based on all the blinking dials in his cockpit. 

That analogy has become suddenly more appropriate, as the center announced on Wednesday it has been advising the FAA's Aviation Rulemaking Committee as it examines its rules on how well-rested pilots need to be. The committee heard WSU scientists Greg Belenky and Hans Van Dongen and has adjusted its rules based on their testimony — upping the required rest period before duty from eight to nine hours and increasing by 25 percent the required minimumoff-duty time per week (to 30 consecutive hours), among other things.

Belenky and Van Dongen say the revised rules are a step in the right direction but that their rigidity doesn't really allow pilots to manage their own differing sleep needs.

"Fatigue—the interaction between sleep loss, circadian rhythm andworkload," says Belenky, in a press release, "is a complex concept that is not easily handled with aone-size-fits-all prescriptive rule."

Read WSU's entire press release for more details.