Drug Modafinil may help IAF pilots cope with loss of sleep, maintain performance

An armed forces study that strongly recommends the need for a minimum eight hours sleep for a fighter pilot for his full cognitive functioning has in a significant clinical trial conducted at the Indian Air Force's Institute of Aerospace Medicine, Bangalore tested the utility of the drug, Modafinil, which helps pilots maintain their performance during a prolonged period of sleep-loss.

Researchers at IAM, Bangalore, are now enthusiastic about the positive results of a clinical trial that tested the efficacy of Modafinil a wakefulness promoting stimulant in preserving the performance of soldier either on ground or fighter pilot in air.

Only recently, Director General of Armed Forces Medical Services Air Marshal D P Joshi, who was in Pune to attend the 51st armed forces medical research conference at Armed Forces Medical College, had commended the IAM researchers on their efforts to help pilots.

Modern air forces have dedicated night strike squadrons to deny the enemy any advantage by maintaining constant pressure on their air defence systems, degrading their offensive potential and denial of rest to men and repair and maintenance of machine. In such situations, the pilots are known to cope with reduced hours of sleep over several days, says a report published in the Indian Journal of Aerospace Medicine. When the efficacy of the drug was tested, the results were crucial particularly so as another study that had assessed sleep patterns of fighter pilots found that they were chronically sleep restricted to less than eight hours per night over consecutive days. "This wake sleep pattern can have a deleterious effect on the cognitive performance," says the research published in the compendium released at the armed forces medical research conference.

Based on these findings, it was recommended that a fighter pilot requires a minimum of eight hours sleep per night for full cognitive functioning.

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