Tactical Napping: How To Sleep On The Job

Tactical Napping: How To Sleep On The Job

Napping pilot
Napping isn’t talked about, but knowing how and when to do it is important for pilots. Image by Gabriel Campanario

My first day as a newly minted co-pilot in a Hawker 700 jet was exciting and early on not what I expected. The weather was clear and a million. Positive ions in the air. Wind right down the runway. Passengers on board, lined up, we were going to San Francisco. We rolled down the runway and away we went. We climbed like only a Hawker 700 could climb with full fuel and passengers. Slowly. It took about an hour to get to flight level 360. Or so it seemed.

Once at flight level, we were headed south from the Pacific Northwest. We finished with all the checks. We settled into the two-hour flight. I did what I thought I was supposed to do, made a radio call, then looked over at my captain. He was a nice guy, military background with many hours in the airplane. He had taken me under his wing and trained me to be the upright, upstanding right seat co-pilot of a mid-sized jet. I looked at him.

However, there was a slight problem. At the time, I did not know what to do. He was violating a Federal Aviation regulation. I didn’t know at the time the exact regulation but he was violating something. I couldn’t believe what he was doing. Maybe because he had trained me, he felt he could trust me. There was a full load of people in the back trusting us both. What was he doing? Well, he was taking a nap. A nap. What was I to do? Rather, what would you do?

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From “The Science of the Perfect Nap” posted on Lifehacker, naps may be defined as, “Daytime sleeping that lasts between 15 and 90 minutes—can improve brain functions ranging from memory to focus and creativity. For some people, naps are as restorative as a whole night of sleep.”

According again to Lifehacker, more than 85 percent of mammalian species are polyphasic sleepers, meaning that they sleep for short periods throughout the day. Humans are part of the minority of monophasic sleepers, meaning that our days are divided into two distinct periods, one for sleep and one for wakefulness. It is not clear if this is the natural sleep pattern of humans. Young children and elderly people nap, for example, and napping is a very important aspect of many cultures. The older I personally get, a nap becomes a more important part of the day.

As a nation, the United States appears to be becoming more and more sleep deprived. It may be our busy lifestyle that keeps us from napping. While naps do not necessarily make up for inadequate or poor-quality nighttime sleep, a short nap of 20-30 minutes can help to improve your mood, alertness and performance.

Nappers are in good company: Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Napoleon, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and George W. Bush are known to have valued an afternoon nap. Kennedy did, I think, a bit more during those afternoon snoozes. So I am told.

NASA research found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34 percent and alertness by 100 percent in the period following the nap and may extend alertness a few hours later in the day. In addition, napping also has psychological benefits, providing some relaxation and rejuvenation. I wonder if my PIC knew that when he was in the land of snooze.

Sadly, napping is often frowned upon in our workaholic American culture. Especially in the front seat of an airplane. When we think of napping men, we think of Dagwood passed out on the couch after consuming a giant, delicious sandwich. Not a bad idea. I have never in 28 years of flying ever slept in the cockpit. I am still, to this day, just excited to be up front.

We think naps are for the lazy and unambitious. Or for retirees with plenty of time on their hands. The man who falls asleep at his desk at work is laughed at. And when we doze off, we feel guilty. We need to ask ourselves, for the betterment of our health, how do we Take the Perfect Nap?

  1. Watch the time. The most beneficial naps are during the day in the late afternoon when your body rhythms are down. According to the sleep experts, naps need to be relatively short. You don’t need a two-hour nap; 15 to 30 minutes is right on the mark. Too long of a nap will mess with your normal sleep pattern at night.
  2. Find a quiet and dark place. The pilot’s lounge is a perfect place for a nap. Usually, the lights are low, and there are others sleeping. By the way, if you are in the lounge, don’t talk on the phone; others are trying to nap. Me especially.
  3. Lie down. Roll the chair back and get comfy, might even put a blanket over yourself. Grab a pillow.
  4. Get in the napping zone. Let your troubles float away. Put earplugs in and find some soothing music. Get to your happy place.
  5. Coordinate your caffeine. Try to not drink that grande mocha just before you begin to nap. You will have a devil of a time getting to sleep.
  6. Plan to nap daily. Remember, many famous people nap on a daily basis, present company included.
  7. Set an alarm. Most all of us are gizmo freaks. So set an alarm on your watch to wake you. Again, 15 to 30 minutes will do the job.
  8. Cut out the guilt. Take naps with pride. I know our little wee ones take daily naps, famous people take naps, and so should you.

Just a side note, as pilots, one of the prerequisites in professional flying is the ability to take a nap whenever and wherever. The motto for pilots has always been, “Sleep when you can, eat when you can, keep smiling, and enjoy the view.” I think napping is part of the job application process for pilots. Waiting (sometimes called “airport appreciation time”) in an airport FBO is a large part of the corporate/airline pilot’s job. Learning to nap is a function of waiting in this business. By the way, my wife will tell you I am an expert at taking naps. She says I can nap anywhere, any time. Even during times of family challenges. I take that with pride.

I have had some awesome naps in FBOs. They have rooms designed for a nap. Crew lounges with a “quiet room.” They are epic naps. The FBOs (especially the large-chain FBOs) put those giant leather chairs that roll back in a comfy position in semi-darkened rooms, just for my comfort. The chairs are called Barcaloungers. Not sure what the barc is, but the lounge is easy. It is very easy to have a nap that refreshes. I love those chairs.

So, the question is: What did I do? Did I let him sleep until it was time to descend? Did I wake him and ask him what I was doing? Well, I am still flying mid-size jets as a corporate pilot and flying pistons on the weekend. Does that answer your question?

The post Tactical Napping: How To Sleep On The Job appeared first on Plane & Pilot Magazine.

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