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Help Air Traffic Controllers Stay Awake


Air route traffic controllers at work at the W...

Air route traffic controllers at work at the Washington ARTCC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Air Traffic Controllers (ATC‘s) struggling to stay awake and alert is a sure sign of stress and exhaustion. The “Rule of 3-3-3” is a quick mental check to detect the onset of sleepiness. Practical neuroscience techniques help ATC’s maintain their “razor’s edge” for superior sensory and cognitive alertness and response time.

Sleepiness and the Rule of 3-3-3

When your eyelids close 3 times in 3 minutes for 3 seconds, or more, you are in dire danger of making a sensory and/or cognitive mistake. You are entering alpha and theta brain states, which signal drowsiness and potential sleep. The following provides the neuroscience explanation of this state and ways to stay awake and alert.

Maintaining Alertness, Focus and Mental Agility

The brain tends to be most focused, logical and alert to taking in and processing sensory information when in the beta frequency range of 14.0 – 40 cycles per second (CPS). Progressively lower frequency ranges are relaxed, drowsy, sleep and dream states. Be aware that your brain may want to “down shift” to a lower frequency range when you are physically tired, experiencing pain, or under stress to perform time-sensitive activities accurately. This is an escape mechanism the brain uses to protect itself.

Oxygen is essential for whole brain functionality. You can keep your brain alert and engaged by deep rhythmic breathing. We tend to hold our breath when stressed and we breathe shallowly when dozing off. Drinking cold water is beneficial because it contains more oxygen than is in room temperature or hot beverages. Also, moving about and stretching is helpful to increase your brain frequency. The quickest emergency first aid treatment for staying alert and present is a controlled shot of oxygen from a tank and mask.

Physical environments help you reach and maintain specific brain frequency states, depending on what you need to do. ATC activities require staying focused, alert, and cognitively present. ATC’s must be able to act quickly, resourcefully and competently in rapidly changing situations.

It’s essential to create the physical environment that increases your probability to stay alert, focused, effective and productive. The following research-based ideas can act as a checklist for FAA and ATC personnel to consider:

  • Straight back chair at a table/console:Avoid an overly comfortable chair that may invite your body to relax and allow you to lose focus.
  • Bright light: Dim lights tend to lower your brain waves and initiate drowsiness.
  • Cool temperatures: Warm temperatures may also create a drowsy state.
  • Food/Snacks only during breaks: Reserve food and snacks for breaks; you may use this as a reward for staying on-task.

In conclusion, ATC’s, or anyone in high-risk management jobs, need to know the principles of practical neuroscience that affect their performance. Each person’s brain is wired differently to receive and process sensory information. Regardless of your career, knowing your brain strengths and “blind spots” is essential to working safely and productively. Doesn’t it make sense that you are most happy and fulfilled when you are alert, managing stress and using your strengths?

Author Message:
You may not be aware that our organization is a trusted and respected source of reliable practical neuroscience solutions for personal and organizational development.  We have been creating and delivering brain-based human development solutions, since 1992. The message that follows directs you to a quick, easy, and low cost solution you may be searching for.

The “first-aid” methods apply to anyone, in any situation where you are pressed beyond your comfort zone. A BIG factor in accidents and mistakes is when our sensory and cognitive “blind spots” are being called upon. A powerful next step in your journey of self development is discovering how your brain is wired for success and what makes your tick; this includes a comprehensive understanding of your brain strengths and “blind spots.”  Your personalized Brain PathWays report gives you practical neuroscience tools, based on your brain strengths, and “blind spots,” to be the best you can be. The on-line process takes less than 15 minutes, the results last a life time. Click to purchase your Brain PathWays online self-assessment and download your report today.

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2 comments on “Help Air Traffic Controllers Stay Awake

  1. Pingback: Harbor-UCLA Joint Venture Reception to Feature the Latest in Brain Injury Diagnostics and Research | Foods that Modify Brain Activity Especially in Children

  2. Pingback: Emergency First Aid for Stressed Air Traffic Controllers | Brain PathWays Blog

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