Sustaining helicopter pilot performance with Dexedrine during periods of sleep deprivation

by Caldwell JA, Caldwell JL, Crowley JS, Jones HD
U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory,
Fort Rucker, AL 36362-0577, USA.
Aviat Space Environ Med 1995 Oct; 66(10):930-7


BACKGROUND: Around-the-clock operations often are mandated in combat, but while aircraft can function effectively throughout continuous 24-hour periods, aviators often cannot because of sleep loss. An efficacious countermeasure in sustained operations may be the administration of dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine).

HYPOTHESIS: Dexedrine will effectively prevent many of the performance problems associated with sleep deprivation in helicopter pilots.

METHODS: A placebo-controlled, double blind study was conducted. Six U.S. Army helicopter pilots completed five flights in a UH-60 simulator while their performance was evaluated. Immediately following each flight, data were collected on electroencephalographic (EEG) activity and subjective mood ratings. Testing sessions occurred at 0100, 0500, 0900, 1300, and 1700. One hour prior to each of the first three flights on drug-administration days, the aviators were given 10 mg of Dexedrine or placebo.

RESULTS: Dexedrine, in comparison to placebo, improved aviator simulator control on descents, straight-and-levels, standard-rate turns, and a left-descending turn. Performance was facilitated most noticeably at 0500, 0900, and 1700 (after 22, 26, and 34 hours of continuous wakefulness). EEG and mood data showed that alertness was sustained significantly by Dexedrine–there was reduced slow-wave EEG activity and improved rating of vigor and fatigue. No adverse behavioral or physiological effects were observed.

CONCLUSIONS: Dexedrine appears to be effective for sustaining helicopter pilot performance during short periods of sleep loss without producing adverse side effects.