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Why sleeping in the aircraft is a real no-no…

It’s easy to fall asleep in the plane – but are you ready to skydive?
Photo: Simon Brentford

Have you ever been sat in a Skyvan, Otter or Dornier G92 for the umpteenth time and nodded off? Surely that’s not possible considering how noisy it is?!

Well maybe it is, you’d be surprised at how powerful the “lullaby effect” can be when the engines are synchronising in and out of tune.

Unconscious learning

Over a period of hundreds of jumps, we naturally get to learn how the airplane sounds when it takes off, when it’s in flight and when it’s throttled back during run-in. We unconsciously learn to know how the airplane should sound during each part of the skydive.

Ready for anything

So how can this help you? Even though dropzone airplanes are maintained in tip-top condition, there can be occasions when you need to be ready at a moment’s notice to get out

  1. The plane may have leveled off as it reached the cloud-base and that means getting out below your normal altitude.
  2. The airplane may have to land due to inclement weather coming in. That means clipping back into the safety restraints and putting your helmet back on.
  3. There could be an aircraft emergency… an engine could cut out, the pilot could level the airplane off and the Jump Master could very quickly tell everyone to get out! This is what everyone learns on their AFF or Static Line course.
  4. Lastly, and one that sometimes happens, is that you’ve fallen asleep and suddenly the aircraft cabin gets super noisy and cold as the door opens. You’ve literally got seconds to be ready before the green light comes on.

The four examples above demonstrate why you need to be ready to skydive at a moment’s notice.

You need to be ready to skydive at a moment’s notice
Photo: Joe Mann


Imagine two scenarios. In the first, someone nods off around 8,000ft, gets woken up by their friends at 14,000 feet and does the skydive. In the second, that same person doesn’t sleep and remains alert. I’m willing to bet that in the first scenario, the reaction times, keying speed, awareness, cross-referencing and general performance will be slightly less. That’s because there will be a small residual drowsiness influencing the next few minutes.

Ask the Doctor!

Here are some thoughts on sleeping in the plane from my teammate, Dr Anna Hicks…

There are various causes of feeling sleepy in the aircraft. Not least, the lack of oxygen at altitude making you hypoxic, due to not enough oxygen in the blood and thus not enough oxygen reaching the brain, and therefore you can feel  drowsy.   Adding other factors to that; heat, not enough sleep, dehydration, lack of food, a long jumping day, post-adrenaline slump or too much alcohol the night before, and you greatly increase your risk of sleepiness and the effects of hypoxia.  Hypoxia makes you prone to making mistakes and bad decision-making –  which is never a good thing in the high-risk environment of skydiving!  

Clearly neither sleepiness or hypoxia are any good when you’re jumping as you’re not going to be performing your best in the sky. At best this is irritating/unfair to the other people you’re jumping with; at worst it could be fatal.  So, my advice would be look after yourself and always be in a good state to awake and alert when you’re getting out of a plane. The bottom line is, skydiving is all about safety, so why sleep in the plane? If you’ve just woken up, are you safe to skydive? Can you still handle a nasty malfunction with the correct emergency procedures? We hear a lot about complacency in debriefs – choosing to fall asleep is a pretty extreme form of complacency.

Dr Anna Hicks

If you do fall asleep

If despite the above you still fall asleep in the plane, you need to develop an automatic response of getting ready to exit immediately. That means goggles on, helmet on, lid down, check your handles, pay attention to the JM and exit! You can train yourself to have this instant reaction of readiness when you hear or feel the change in the engines, notice the airplane leveling off and the door opening. Don’t be a sheep, be ready to go!

Tips to stay awake

  • Food and water – eat little and often through the day and stay hydrated by drinking lot of water.
  • Stay out of the sun – the heat can make you feel drowsy and tired. Try to cool down between jumps.
  • Cold air – sit near the door or position yourself near an air vent, the refreshing cold air will help you stay awake. If it’s a very hot day you could ask the pilot if it’s okay to open the door for the first few thousand feet.
  • Look out of the window, to occupy your mind and keep your brain active.
  • Visualise – visualising the dive with all the sensations, the noise, the wind, the visuals, can help you to keep you awake. Visualise at different speeds – slow motion, to see everything in detail and very fast, to test/improve your memory, and to wake you up
  • Manage your arousal level – Team jumpers learn to measure and manage their ‘arousal level’ so they are perfectly ‘on the line’ (aka ‘in the zone’) to give their best performance, both in competition and in training. If you’re sleepy you’re definitely ‘below the line’, and will likely under-perform on the skydive, as you’re not alert. Using tricks such as imagining this is a competition or record jump can help bring your mental faculties back on track, and refocus your energy for the skydive.

Stay awake, stay alert, stay safe!

Adapted from this article by Simon Brentford, on the Skydive Hibaldstow blog

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Meet: Simon Brentford

Cameraman for team NFTO since 2015
5200 Skydives, 1000+ BASE jumps, FS & WS coach
UK National Champion 4-way 2004 (as point with Wizards), 2018, 2019, 2021 (as camera)
UK National Champion 8-way 2019 & 2021 (as camera)
UK National Champion Speed skydiving 3 times
4-way at World Cup, Saarlouis, Germany 2011
Speed Skydiving at Mondial, Dubai 2012 (came 6th)
4-way Female at World Air Games, Dubai 2015 (came 5th)
4-way Female at World Championships 2016, Chicago, USA (took Bronze)
4-way Female at World Championships 2018, Gold Coast, Oz (took Silver)
4-way Female at World Cup 2019, Eloy, USA (took Silver)

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