Pilots-Airline-Operators – Sleep Apnea is a bigger problem than you think
The implications for pilots and crew members are significant. It has been suggested that people with mild-to-moderate OSA can show performance degradation equivalent to 0.06 to 0.08% blood alcohol levels, which is the measure of legal intoxication in most states. Pilots-Airline-Operators must be aware that coffee is not the simple solution to being tired or drowsy.
Most pilots will not fly intoxicated, but OSA sleep deprivation has been shown to cause similar effects. Further exacerbating the problem are time zone changes and post-flight alcohol consumption, which can further inhibit wakefulness. Normally, when you stop breathing while asleep, the brain automatically sends a wake-up call after about 10 seconds, and you wake up, gasping for air. Multiple time zone changes and alcohol consumption both inhibit arousal mechanisms and may result in oxygen deprivation of 30 seconds or longer before you heed the wake-up call. When you add up the oxygen starvation resulting from many occurrences per night, along with the subsequent arousal, the effect is significant fatigue.