Impacts of Insomnia and Fatigue Management for Cabin Crews

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Cabin crews are among the few jobs that require you to bend “normal” life scheduling for work. From night-time departures, early morning arrivals, and adjusting to several time zones in a matter of days, this could very well disrupt one’s sleeping pattern and what life ought to look like normally. If going on for a long time, such an irregular lifestyle could put cabin crews’ health at stake. From fatigue to depression, anything could happen when your health has been compromised. And yet, it is the reality of those who wish to pursue careers in the aviation industry.

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Reports on fatigue among cabin crews

In fact, the health risk posed against aviation workers is not at all breaking news. For the longest time, researchers and psychologists alike have voiced concern against cabin crews’ health and well-being. In 2012, as cited in a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, John A Caldwell, a psychologist and senior scientist at Fatigue Science pointed out the complex interplay of inadequate sleep and circadian rhythms.

Caldwell elaborated, “Fatigue-related performance problems in aviation have been consistently underestimated and underappreciated, despite the fact that decades of research on pilots and other operational personnel has clearly established that fatigue from insufficient sleep significantly degrades basic cognitive performance, psychological mood, and fundamental piloting skills.”

In a 2020 report, it is said that prior to the pandemic, between 40–68% of airlines’ cabin crews were positive for insomnia, depression, shift work disorder or a multitude of these disorders. Among many ways, consumption of caffeine, use of alcohol and drugs to promote sleep were the top mentioned coping mechanisms by cabin crews. While these could help one stay awake during work, unfortunately, the same study suggests that those will also result in an increased level of insomnia and reduced sleep quality.

Fatigue levels impacted international cabin crew the most, and particularly their work performance among others. The severity of a cabin crew’s fatigue level can be traced back to their work rosters such as number of sectors flown per day and number of duty days per week. If anything, this speaks volume to the way management has neglected their staff’s well-being by putting them through strange hours constantly without intervention.

Fatigue Risk Management System (FRSM)

As the airline industry recovers from the pandemic, both employers and crews have an opportunity to work together and design flight schedules in a way that can minimize fatigue and sleepiness for airline cabin crew. If past reports and findings indicate anything, it is likely that having preventive and mitigation efforts will have significant improvement to workers’ health.

Fatigue Risk Management Systems (FRMSs) are a relatively new approach to improving safety and increasing operational flexibility. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) defines FRMS as “a data-driven means of continuously monitoring and managing fatigue-related safety risks, based upon scientific principles and knowledge as well as operational experience that aims to ensure relevant personnel are performing at adequate levels of alertness”. 

FRMS entails many things, but one thing that a recent study has found out is that it still lacks adequate support from the management. Some of the recommendations from the researchers include:

  1. Making fatigue reporting non-punitive and support fatigue management training
  2. Accommodating sufficient rest for adequate recovery
  3. Facilitating a work-life balance for all workers
  4. Making fatigue-related processes and resources as easy as possible
  5. Increasing management’s engagement with cabin crew in general

Albeit small, we sure hope that every little step is taken seriously. It is a continuous progress that needs everyone’s joined efforts. It is true that the management has a great deal of responsibility when it comes to ensuring workers’ well-being. However, that does not mean we should not try to manage ourselves better and create changes from within. So, in the meantime, let’s work on ourselves better!

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