What’s going on in the cockpit?

The last four years have been weird, but it’s hard to know if it was out of the ordinary.

For example, we’ve witnessed a series of fires around the world at food processing plants and industrial complexes. But because no organization keeps records on these kinds of incidents, we can’t tell if there’s an anti-human cabal trying to start a famine, or if social media has amplified what amounts to a common occurrence.    

Another example is the spate of professional athletes going into cardiac arrest during games. Athletes with undiscovered heart defects have been dropping dead since sports were invented, but then again, there’s a reason COVID jabs are called the clot shot.

Similarly, we’re hearing more about emergencies in the cockpit, where a pilot suddenly becomes incapacitated. COVID vaccines were required for jobs in aviation, but records about cockpit crises pre-2021 vs. post-2021 are hard to come by.

I just spent the last week flying around the country for work, and I’ve developed my own theory about what’s happening in cockpits. It’s a case of: Yes (the vaccine), and.

A stable circadian rhythm is the foundation of good health. You need bright days and dark nights, and a consistent sleep/wake schedule. The health problems of night workers have been tracked for decades, and now the artificial light at night from phones and devices is turning everyone into 3rd shift workers.

A study published in The Lancet medical journal in 2007 about aviation and health found that consistent disruption of body rhythms from jet lag can lead to cognitive decline, psychiatric problems, sleep disorders, heart disease, and cancer.  Neurosurgeon Jack Kruse noted that for frequent flyers, “The health risk seems to mirror that of graveyard-shift workers.”

A confused circadian rhythm also goes hand in hand with a lack of exposure to the sun. A pilot lives his or her life sealed off from direct sunlight: all day shifts in an airtight tin can, then airports, hotels, and back again. Lack of sun exposure is correlated with obesity, diabetes, and a host of other metabolic and physical problems.

Pilots add to this circadian nightmare a diet of whatever they can grab between flights at the airport food court, namely fast food chains or pretzel and pastry kiosks. I had this realization when I almost knocked over a pilot holding a pizza box as we both rushed to our gates.

Pilots’ entire careers are an extreme version of the modern American lifestyle: Excessive screen time (the full avionics display) combined with no sun on skin, while eating junk three meals per day. I’m not surprised pilots are frequently keeling over.

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