start fresh: a commercial pilot

Pilot Alex takes us through his sleep routine

start fresh: a commercial pilot

Think your wake up call is early? Pilot Alex’s alarm goes off at 3am (yes, you read that right) when he’s on ‘earlies’. As part of our Start Fresh series, he fills us in on his morning rituals and nighttime routine, including some of his pretty unusual sleep hacks (hairdryer, anyone?).

rise and shine

  • 3am As soon as my alarm goes off, I’ll knock back some water. As a pilot, I fly short-haul which is similar to shift work – I’ll work ‘earlies’ or ‘lates’. Each day varies depending on where I am. And some starts are much earlier than others.
  • 3.05am I always jump in the shower to wake myself up properly. If I’m ‘down-route’, I’ll stay in a hotel the night before. If I’m flying at a more reasonable time and sleep at home, I’ll always get public transport to work. There aren’t any restrictive rules on living close to the airport as long as you have eight hours of sleep every night (it’s a legal requirement before flying).
  • 3.15am I get dressed and have a coffee immediately, before grabbing a bite to eat. I probably drink around six cups of coffee a day and stop drinking caffeine at around 6pm (I know it should be earlier).
  • 4am At the airport, I’ll do around an hour and a half of pre-flight checks, which involves looking at the weather and aircraft, and talking to the crew.
  • 5:30am The shortest flight I make is 40 minutes and the longest is five hours. If we’re flying over a dinner period, we’re always given food. We don’t get lunch or tea breaks – instead, we’re brought food while operating the plane. The portions are very small to avoid that ‘food coma’ feeling.
  • 9am Once we’ve landed, taxied in, shut the aircraft down, debriefed and handed the aircraft over to the next crew, we’ll travel to whichever hotel we’re staying in. Normally at this point we all check in with our other halves, sort out admin or scroll through social media. It’s a good wind-down time to switch off from work and disengage your brain a little.

winding down

  • 3.45pm Exercise helps me sleep better later on, and I feel so much better and more energised as a result. I’ll go for a run if I have free time in a new city.
  • 5pm Because I don’t have a routine, I have to trick my body into thinking I do. I read that your body goes down by a couple of degrees as you fall asleep, so having a bath can help (when you get out, your body temperature drops).
  • 6.15pm If I’m wide awake, I’ll use a more unique sleep hack. When I was a child, my mum used to hoover the house and my brother and I would follow her. The warmth and white noise meant we’d always fall asleep next to the hoover. Nowadays, a hairdryer has the same effect, so if I’m struggling to nod off I’ll turn a hairdryer on.
  • 6pm I never keep my phone in the bedroom if I’m home. The Apple Watch has been helpful. If there’s an emergency, it will call me and disturb me, but it also acts as an alarm that is far less intrusive than a phone.
  • 7pm I always make the bedroom as dark as possible before sleeping. When I stay in hotels, they have to be fitted with blackout blinds. At home, it’s a different story – I’m much more easily distracted.

Curious about more morning rituals? Check out this one from Yogi Bare founder Kat Pither or this one from Kayleigh, the service manager for a homeless charity.