Skip to Content

How long do pilots sleep?

Pilots have a very demanding job that requires them to be alert and well-rested to ensure the safety of passengers. Unlike most professions where sleep time is fairly consistent, pilots’ schedules vary drastically depending on the types of flights they’re operating. Factors like flight length, time zones crossed, and regulations determine how much time pilots spend sleeping and working both in the air and on the ground.

How Many Hours Are Pilots Allowed to Fly?

Aviation authorities strictly regulate the amount of time pilots are allowed to fly to prevent fatigue. In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sets limits on pilot flight time and duty periods. The maximum depends on the type of flight operation:

  • Airline pilots flying domestic routes have a daily flight time limit of 8 or 9 hours, depending on start time. They cannot be scheduled for duty periods over 14 hours.
  • For international flights, the FAA allows up to 16 hours of scheduled flight time in a 24 hour duty period.
  • Pilots who fly unscheduled charter flights are limited to 8 flight hours during any 24 consecutive hours.
  • Cargo and other non-passenger flights fall under separate duty time rules allowing up to 12 flight hours in a 24 hour period.

Individual airlines often set more restrictive flight and duty time limits within the FAA’s regulations to improve safety. For example, many major U.S. passenger airlines limit pilots to 8 flight hours per day.

Factors That Determine Pilot Sleep Needs

While flight time limits restrict hours in the cockpit, several other factors influence how much sleep pilots need to operate flights safely and effectively:

Length of Flight Segments

Short flights allow for more frequent overnight rest periods, while very long flights require vigilance over extended periods and can cause fatigue. Ultra long-haul flights allow for controlled cockpit rest.

Number of Flight Segments

Multiple takeoffs and landings increase mental and physical fatigue. Pilots flying only 1 or 2 segments per duty period generally need less recovery sleep.

Time Zones Crossed

Flying through multiple time zones disrupts circadian rhythms and causes jet lag, requiring extra rest to recover. Eastbound trans-meridian flights with a high number of time zones crossed result in worse jet lag.

Woclk Schedules

Irregular schedules with early starts, late finishes, and night duties make it harder for pilots to maintain natural sleep patterns.

Rest Facilities

Access to comfortable, quiet rest facilities at airports and on aircraft can improve pilot sleep quality and duration.

How Many Hours of Sleep Do Pilots Usually Get?

With constantly changing schedules, sleep requirements, and rest conditions, pilots’ sleep duration varies significantly:

  • One survey showed an average sleep time of 6 hours for short-haul pilots and over 7 hours for long-haul pilots on work days.
  • Another study found pilot sleep durations ranging from less than 5 hours up to over 9 hours when measured by wearable devices.
  • Overnights between flight duties allow for the longest sleeps, while mid-duty rest periods are shorter.
  • About 25% of pilots report obtaining less than 6 hours of sleep per day, which is considered inadequate.
  • Younger pilots tend to get slightly less sleep than senior pilots.

While there is no universal average, most pilots try to get at least 6 to 7 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period to operate safely. However, multiple nights of restricted sleep can accumulate fatigue.

How Fatigue Mitigation Regulations Impact Sleep

Aviation authorities stipulate various fatigue risk management regulations to minimize tiredness:

Flight Time Limits

Capping allowed flight hours provides pilots the opportunity for adequate sleep at home or during overnights.

Rest Requirements

Mandatory rest periods between duty times allow pilots to recover with overnight and mid-duty sleep.

Consecutive Night Restrictions

Limits on consecutive night duties prevent chronic sleep loss and disruption of circadian rhythms.

Cumulative Limits

Restrictions preventing excessive flight time accumulations during the week or month reduce overall fatigue risk.

Controlled Rest on the Flight Deck

Allowing planned cockpit napping on long flights refreshes pilots during duty.

Thanks to these mitigations, pilots are able to maintain safer levels of alertness while operating long and tiring flight schedules.

Typical Pilot Sleep Schedule

While every pilot’s schedule is different, a typical sleep pattern over a multi-day sequence might look like:

Day 1 – Long-Haul Flight

  • 9 hours overnight sleep at home base
  • 2-3 hour cockpit nap mid-flight
  • 8 hours overnight sleep at layover

Day 2 – Return Long-Haul Flight

  • 8 hours overnight sleep at layover
  • 2-3 hour cockpit nap mid-flight
  • 9 hours overnight sleep at home base

Day 3 – Domestic Flight Sequence

  • 7 hours overnight sleep at home base
  • 45 minute rest period between flights
  • 8 hours overnight sleep at home base

This allows for adequate daily rest periods. However, consecutive days of early starts or late finishes can lead to fatigue buildup.

Strategies Pilots Use to Maximize Sleep

Pilots use various methods to improve their ability to sleep when needed:

Optimizing Sleep Environment

Using earplugs and eyemasks to reduce noise and light disruption during daytime rest periods.

Healthy Sleep Habits

Maintaining consistent pre-sleep routines, avoiding caffeine before bedtime, and keeping good sleep hygiene.

Using Fatigue Mitigation Policies

Taking full advantage of rest breaks and other fatigue management protections.

Strategic Napping

Planned cockpit napping for 20-40 minutes maximizes alertness on long flights.

Monitoring Sleep Needs

Tracking sleep duration to gauge rest requirements and fatigue risks.

Avoiding Heavy Meals

Eating light, healthy meals before sleep periods avoids gastro-intestinal issues.

Implementing some of these best practices helps pilots get the restorative sleep they need.

How Much Sleep Do Student Pilots Get?

For pilots in training, balancing intense study with regular flight training requires proper rest:

  • One study showed student pilots sleep an average of just under 7 hours per night.
  • Around 50% reported not getting enough sleep during training.
  • Students tend to sacrifice sleep in favor of studying, resulting in fatigue.
  • Heavy training schedules lead to daytime sleepiness among students.
  • Those with the highest workloads get the least amount of sleep.

Instructors emphasize the importance of sleep discipline to student pilots. Proper rest keeps students alert during critical learning periods.

The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Pilots

Not getting sufficient sleep degrades a pilot’s ability to operate aircraft safely. Common effects of pilot fatigue include:

  • Reduced attention, vigilance and working memory
  • Impaired judgment and decision making
  • Mood changes like irritability and apathy
  • Decreased situational awareness and manual flying skills
  • Increased operational errors and mistakes

The most severe consequence of dangerously fatigued pilots is an increased risk of aviation accidents. All pilots must manage their schedules and rest to avoid these detrimental effects.

Signs That a Pilot Needs More Sleep

Pilots and others should watch for these cues that a pilot needs more rest:

  • Yawning frequently or rubbing eyes
  • Fixating or staring during tasks
  • Wandering, disconnected thoughts
  • Forgetfulness and difficulty recalling procedures
  • Reduced performance and motivation
  • Excessive tiredness after waking
  • Mood changes like irritability or apathy
  • Headaches, stomachaches or other physical symptoms

Noticing these warning signs can give pilots an opportunity to identify causes of fatigue and improve sleep habits before performance is impacted.


How long pilots sleep depends heavily on their constantly shifting flight schedules and assignments. While total sleep varies widely, most try to average at least 6 to 7 hours over each 24 hour duty period. This allows them to operate aircraft safely while maintaining mental and physical stamina throughout long duty days. However, consecutive days of restricted sleep can accumulate fatigue. Regulatory protections and fatigue mitigation strategies also enable pilots to get the rest they need to function at a high level. With proper sleep habits, routine evaluation of fatigue risks, and schedule moderation when possible, pilots can meet the demands of their crucial job.