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Human Factors In Aviation: Circadian Rhythmicity

2245 words - 9 pages

Circadian RhythmLiving organisms on this planet have adapted to the daily rotation of the earth on its axis. By means of "endogenous circadian clocks" that can be synchronized to the daily and seasonal changes in external time cues, most notably light and temperature. Most people anticipate environmental transitions, perform activities at biologically advantageous times during the day, and undergo characteristic seasonal responses. The effects of transmeridian flight and shift work are stark reminders that although modern technologies can create "cities that never sleep" we cannot escape the recalcitrance of endogenous clocks that regulate much of our physiology and behavior. Recent progress ...view middle of the document...

Fighting this physiological switch that turns on the body's rest and sleep apparatus can be extremely difficult and uncomfortable when one is forced to stay awake by the requirements of the job (Monk, 1990).1+2Social Factors as one of the types of zeitgebersThe specific environmental time cues which synchronize it to a 24-hour day are known by the German term "zeitgebers," meaning "time-givers." Currently, two types of zeitgebers have been identified: exposure to bright light and social factors. There is some evidence that the human circadian clock may be synchronized by certain social factors, including the work/rest schedule. However, the specific aspects of the social environment that constitute time cues have not yet been identified, and the mechanisms by which they affect the clock remain unknown. (NASA 1999)Maximal Sleepiness PeriodsWe are physiologically programmed for two periods of maximal sleepiness in a usual 24-hour period. The period 3-5 A.M. is a circadian low point for temperature, performance, and alertness. During this time, the brain triggers sleep and sleepiness.The other period of increased sleepiness is roughly 3-5 P.M. Most individuals have experienced an afternoon wave of sleepiness. These windows can be used to schedule sleep periods or naps because the brain provides a period of maximal sleepiness and an increased opportunity for sleep. Performance and alertness can be decreased during the nocturnal window, which is from 2 A.M. until 6 A.M. For some, the afternoon window of sleepiness may occur between 2 P.M. and 4 P.M. Mental activity invlolved in flight at these times should help maintain alertness.(NASA 1999)Falling asleep earlier is harder than sleeping laterThe problem with having to get up earlier than usual is that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to fall asleep sufficiently early the night before to compensate (even when the duty schedule permits). It is not simply a question of discipline or motivation. The circadian clock effectively opposes falling asleep earlier than the habitual bedtime. Just as there are preferred times in the circadian cycle for falling asleep, there are also times when sleep onset is very unlikely. These times have been labeled "wake maintenance zones," and one of them occurs just before the habitual bedtime. In addition, because the "biological day" dictated by the circadian clock tends to be longer than 24 hours, it is easier to go to sleep later than to go to sleep earlier. Going to sleep later also means staying awake longer, which allows more time for the homeostatic "sleep pressure" to build up.(NASA 1999)Long Haul Operations and the biological clockField studies specific to different aviation environments and using a range of measures (e.g., performance, physiology, and behavior) have revealed a number of factors related to fatigue. For example, in long-haul operations, the non-24-hr duty/rest cycles, the circadian desynchronization associated with transmeridien flights,...

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