What medications can pilots take for sleep deprivation?

Transportation workers in the U.S. struggle to get adequate sleep -- and pilots are among the most sleep challenged. Sleep deprivation causes fatigue, poor judgment, difficulty with memory and learning, and a slowing of reaction time. There's also increasing evidence of a link between sleep problems and depression, as well as anxiety.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has changed its regulations regarding the use of prescription medication for depression, allowing its pilots the use of 4 antidepressants. Permission to fly while taking these medications is granted on a case-by-case basis, and pilots must be under doctor supervision. Side effects of these medications -- rare but real -- can include hallucinations and panic attacks.

Nearly all sleep medication is prohibited by the FAA for pilots -- but that doesn't mean that sleep medications aren't being used by pilots who may be self-medicating to ward against fatigue. Sleep medications have their own set of side effects, which can affect behavior. Sleep medications can be an important and effective tool, but they must be monitored in order to ensure they're working appropriately and without side effects that can be disruptive or dangerous.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.