The FAA announced today that they plan to give air traffic controllers an hour to rest between shifts, in an attempt to keep the controllers sharp and aware. The announcement was made just a day after a controller was caught sleeping on the job in Miami and days after Hank .
While this may sound like a good idea to some, and something that will keep the skies safer, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood isn't too enthusiastic about the idea. "On my watch, controllers will not be paid to take naps. We're not going to allow that," he said. Bill Voss, president of the Flight Safety Foundation of Alexandria, Virginia, told the Associated Press that the stance was one concerned more with politics than safety. "Given the body of scientific evidence, that decision clearly demonstrates that politics remain more important than public safety," he said. "People are concerned about a political backlash if they allow controllers to have rest periods in their work shifts the same way firefighters and trauma physicians do."
Several other countries, including Japan and Germany, permit their controllers to get rest between shifts. Apparently, it has been an open secret around the FAA that controllers nap during shifts, especially the more grueling midnight shifts.
The announcement comes the same day that The New York Times Magazine runs a story that people need more sleep than previously thought. As recently as 15 years ago, it was believe that a person could function normally on as little as four or five hours of sleep a night. But a recent study at the Sleep and Chronobiology Laboratory at the Hospital at University of Pennsylvania showed that people who sleep less than eight hours a night suffer lapses of concentration and declines in cognitive ability. The negative affects were only compounded the less sleep a subjects got, with sleepers who clocked only four of sleep faring worse than those who slept for six hours. Both groups continued to decline until stabilizing at a performance level much worse than what they'd started at.