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One of most people’s favorite things to do while flying is take a nap. But pilots can’t always do that. So how do pilots stay awake during a flight?

Pilots need to stay awake and alert at all times so they can be ready to take control of the airplane at a moment’s notice. Some of the ways pilots stay awake include drinking caffeine, getting plenty of rest the day/night before, staying busy, keeping the cockpit warm and the lights bright.

We all know how exhausting simply flying as a passenger can be, just imagine actually having to actively fly the aircraft as a pilot. So how do they stay awake the entire time without drifting off? In this article, we’ll discuss some of the tips and tricks that pilots use to stay awake, how they get ready for long flights, and a little bit about if pilots are allowed to sleep or not.

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How Do Pilots Stay Awake During Long Flights?

It can be tough to stay awake while flying. For passengers, that’s no big deal. It’s often the best way to fly! But for pilots, falling asleep is typically not something they want to do. Think about how often in your life you’ve gotten tired while driving your car. Scary, right? Now imagine piloting an airplane with potentially hundreds of other people all relying on you to fly safe.

You wouldn’t want to start drifting off in the cockpit! Even if it’s just you flying your own airplane on the weekend for fun, you want to make sure you are going to stay awake for the duration of the flight. So what do pilots do to stay awake while flying?

Let’s take a look at some of the most common things pilots do to stay awake.

What Are Some Tricks That Pilots Use To Stay Awake?

Pilots do all sorts of things to make sure they’re able to stay awake while flying. From our own flying experience and from pilots all over the country, here are some of the most common tips and tricks we heard when we asked pilots how they stayed awake while flying:

  • Getting plenty of sleep the day prior — One of the easiest ways to make sure you will be well-rested for a flight is to get plenty of sleep the day or night before. Some pilots will stay up later the days leading up and then get a bunch of sleep the night before a long flight so they wake up well-rested and ready to go.
  • Stay busy and keep your mind occupied — In most cases, you typically only start to drift off to sleep if you’re sitting still and don’t have a lot going on. While flying, pilots always have something that they can be doing. Simply staying busy during the flight is a surefire way to stop you from falling asleep so easily.
  • Keep the cockpit lights bright — If you’re like almost everyone else on the planet, you prefer to sleep with the lights off. Dark rooms help you fall asleep easier, so simply keep the cockpit lights turned on and at their brightest setting and it’ll be much harder to fall asleep while flying.
  • Keep the temperature a little warmer in the cockpit — Similar to the reason above, most people tend to prefer a slightly cooler room while sleeping so they can wrap a blanket around them for comfort. Keeping the cockpit a little warmer than normal will help keep you from falling asleep since it won’t promote nearly as much comfort.

There is one thing that you likely noticed was missing from that list, so let’s touch on arguably the single most common way that pilots stay awake.

Can Pilots Drink Coffee To Help Stay Awake?

We thought about mentioning the use of caffeine and coffee in the section above, since it’s undoubtedly one of the most common things that pilots use to stay alert and awake while flying. But there seems to be a common misconception that pilots are not able to drink coffee or caffeine while flying due to the potential of the caffeine rush and subsequent crash.

But let me dispel that misconception for you right now! Pilots, just like the majority of any other working-class people out there, enjoy their morning coffee, tea, or soda. Think about how many people drink coffee in the morning on their way to work or once they get to work — it’s estimated that 400 million cups are drunk every day in the US. Pilots are no different; they like their coffee!

The caffeine helps pilots stay awake and alert just like any other person that drinks coffee before or during work. One thing worth mentioning, however, is that some employers and airlines around the world have banned the use of coffee in the cockpit. But this is to prevent spilling the drink on sensitive electronics rather than anything else!

How Many Hours Can Pilots Fly Per Day Without Sleep?

Since pilots are the sole proprietors of the safety of everyone on board the aircraft, it’s vital that they stay awake, alert, and well-rested at all times. Because of that, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) limits the amount that pilots can fly in a 24-hour period. Per current rules, pilots can only be scheduled for 8 hours of flight in any 24-hour period.

This was done to make sure that pilots are not being overworked and to reduce the risk of pilots being too tired to be alert and ready for the potential stresses that they may encounter while flying. The FAA also requires that pilots have an uninterrupted 10-hour period between shifts to ensure that they are well-rested.

Are Pilots Allowed To Sleep While Flying?

If you’re wondering about how pilots are able to stay awake while flying, that of course begs the question: are pilots allowed to sleep while flying? After all, if pilots can get some sleep while flying, then maybe they don’t really need to do anything special to try to stay awake. The short answer is actually yes, pilots are allowed to sleep while flying.

But let’s look a little deeper.

Because we don’t want to scare anyone who’s worried about the thought of the pilot flying their plane falling asleep. The ways that pilots get some sleep while flying depends on how long the flight is, how many pilots there are, and what kind of sleeping quarters the plane has. For more details on how pilots sleep while flying, check out our article on the topic here.

But we’ll give you a quick overview here. During flight, pilots will either take a quick power nap using in-seat rest or bunk rest. As the name suggests, in-seat rest is when a pilot sleeps in their seats just like a passenger would. Bunk rest is typically reserved for longer flights where pilots can go to a reserved spot to get some extended sleep.

No matter which type of sleep a pilot is using during flight, there is one thing that must remain true at all times. There must be a pilot awake, alert, and at the controls no matter what. This is why pilots are able to sleep, there are always at least two pilots on any given commercial flight. One is allowed to sleep while the other one is actively at the controls.