The dangers of air traffic controllers not getting enough sleep: A class discussion or assignment

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It was with great dismay that I read this New York Times article on the number of close calls between airplanes (Ember et al., 2023). With the challenges faced by understaffed air traffic control towers, the sheer number of close calls are not surprising. What is surprising is that the last time a U.S. airline had a fatal crash was in 2009.

After reading that article, I opened my computer to see on my screen a ScienceDaily summary of a study that found correlations “between early classes, less sleep, poor attendance and reduced grade point average” (ScienceDaily, 2023). I thought, “yes, lack of sleep can negatively affect GPA, but it can also get people killed.”

After covering sleep in Intro Psych, ask your students to review the tips for better sleep provided by the Sleep Foundation (Suni & Singh, 2023). All of these tips imply that we as individuals have complete control over our sleeping conditions. We know that it’s not quite that simple. For example, I have previously written about how social conditions can affect sleep (Frantz, 2022). This most recent New York Times article on airplane near misses points out that work can make getting good sleep problematic.

Invite your students to read that New York Times article. And then in the context of a discussion (online or face-to-face) or as an assignment, ask students to answer these questions.

  1. Of the Sleep Foundation’s 20 tips for better sleep, which ones would be impossible for air traffic controllers do according to the New York Times article? Explain.
  2. Of the 20 tips, which ones might be difficult for air traffic controllers to do? Explain.
  3. Of the 20 tips, which ones would be easiest for air traffic controllers to do? Explain.
  4. If you were in charge of air traffic controllers, identify at least three things you would do to improve their sleep.



Ember, S., Steel, E., Abraham, L., Lutz, E., & Koeze, E. (2023, August 21). Airline close calls happen far more often than previously known. The New York Times.

Frantz, S. (2022, January 10). Sleep deprivation is also a social justice issue. Macmillan and BFW Teaching Community.

ScienceDaily. (2023, March 28). Early morning university classes correlate with poor sleep and academic performance. ScienceDaily.

Suni, E., & Singh, A. (2023, August 8). The 20 tips for how to sleep better. Sleep Foundation.


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About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology since 1992. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award. She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed. and is co-author with Charles Stangor on Introduction to Psychology, 4.0.