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I am asking this for someone I know who's up in years but still under 60, and is a fellow pilot. He brought this question up:

"I am concerned that I might have some moderate sleep problems - doubtful it's narcolepsy, and I've driven (and flown) safely for years and the worst is feeling tired. My thought is to check on blood levels and maybe EKG stuff etc.. Perhaps there is something that's actually detectable. Perhaps there is medication that reduces the tiredness. If I go to a doctor and bring these up, will it jeopardize my medical?"

Your thoughts? Appreciate your feedback - my friend is not an internet person at all :)

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    $\begingroup$ Your friend should be worrying about his health rather than his license. And the country matters a lot here but no one should make their medical decisions on random advice from the internet. Having said all that, a reasonable thing to do is to find an Aviation Medical Examiner (or local equivalent) and ask them for a consultation; if your friend is in the US, he could also join AOPA and ask them. There are also many threads on AOPA's forums (members only) about sleep apnea, required medical reporting etc. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Dec 5 '15 at 19:40
  • $\begingroup$ First of all what country are you referring to? $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Dec 6 '15 at 4:39
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In the US the HIPAA rules often provide you with confidentiality but there are several circumstances that allow your doctor to provide info without your consent and being a pilot qualifies. It allows them to, but only requires them to in situations where a crime might be involved, i.e. physical abuse.

The concern would probably not be that your doctor will tell the FAA (although they probably could if they were truly concerned), it would be that you would be required to tell your FAA examiner of any diagnosis. I believe it's a felony not to.

If it's sleep apnea he's concerned about (you said sleep problem, non-narcolepsy - I'm not a doctor so I'm just offering what i know about a very common sleep problem) then there are ways to get a special issuance medical certificate.

I'm not a pilot but a driver and I have to have a DOT medical card. The way sleep apnea is usually treated is by CPAP. For the DOT physical, If you are on CPAP you have to bring the machine to your physical so the examiner can check the data and verify that you have been using it (I think 75% of the time but don't quote me on that). I checked and the FAA has similar rules.


I agree with Pondlife that one's health should trump licensing concerns, and nobody should be flying if they are at risk of dozing off. But I definitely understand your friend's situation. I suspected I had apnea but I refused to go to a sleep study because I did not want the diagnosis. What if I couldn't deal with CPAP? My dad was on CPAP for 30 years but he rarely used it because it was too uncomfortable. Then I'd be forced to use it to keep my job.

Fortunately my situation resolved itself (I don't have apnea) but I understand why he's reticent to mention it to his doctor.

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Sleep problems are a concern to the FAA. Lack of sleep or not having restful sleep contributes to fatigue, and fatigue is one of the 12, aka 'The Dirty Dozen,' leading factors for accidents, incidents and mishaps. This is a serious matter for all parties involved.

Here are a couple good resources:

http://www.aopa.org/Pilot-Resources/Medical/Medical-Certification-and-Conditions/Sleep-Disorders

http://www.skybrary.aero/index.php/The_Human_Factors_%22Dirty_Dozen%22

Lack of good quality sleep not only contributes to fatigue, but it is stressful on the body and mind. It magnifies the existing stress. Tell your friend to take care of themselves first, and then they could consider working with a local AME that specializes in complex medical cases.

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