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Flight hours and a restful sleep

I have always told my students that learning science is like learning how to become a pilot. You can't get to be a good one without having completed the minimum flight training hours. This means that although you can know all about theories... it's just not enough: you need to practice in an even and regular way. It's precisely because of this steady and intense practice that theory gets its raison d'être. Flight training hours are directly comparable to the ones needed for a proper training in mathematics, physics, chemistry or whatever formal or natural science where practice is basic. It's not at all enough to find the right answer to just one question: you have to be able to successfully and timely solve several, complete sets of similar or identical problems, sometimes dealing with a shared quality, sometimes managing to overcome subtle tricks, again and again... thus learning by repetition. Through hard work and dogged perseverance you'll certainly have improved your skills enough as to successively gain your pilot's license first for the two-seater, then for the Cessna, next for the jet, last for the domestic flights, and finally for the international ones.

In most cases, students end up learning (after some attempts doomed to failure) that flight hours are completely neccesary to pass an exam.

Nevertheless, there is still a key issue they should be made aware of: as a general international rule, no pilot is allowed to operate the controls of an aircraft if they have not previously completed the minimum required hours of rest, relaxation and sleep. But this has nothing to do with their suitability for the job. In other words, although there's no doubt about their credibility as well-trained pilots, it's widely known that getting enough time for rest and relaxation help reduce the probability of failure and accidents due to human error.

Same thing happens when studying. Usually students take the whole time just before the exam as a lifesaver that will help them gain last-minute knowledge, quickly improve their skills and score victory. Sadly, they are at the same time reducing precious hours that should be taken for restful sleep. They should be strongly advised against sitting for a test in a poor mental, emotional, or physical condition that most likely will spoil their score.

When I was a student (the truth is I'm still one of them), I used to hang out with my classmates on the day just before the exam in order to "talk the subject", that is, to discuss core topics that would certainly be tested: just chatting openly, no agenda, no questions to solve, no theory to go through. Meetings of this kind turn out to be very productive as they help promote an open exchange of ideas and information in a friendly, relaxed way. This is the time when messed knowledge can at last be catalyzed, sorted out, synthesized, cleared up, crumbled and thoroughly analyzed.

Just after sharing that pleasant time with peers, sleep comes on stage to play a major role in helping students succeed. Getting no sleep is like getting a ticket to crash and burn. It's because a restful sleep has the same beneficial effects on their minds as those of the "informal talk" meeting: the rough draft happens to be edited, things fall into place, pieces start to fit neatly into the jigsaw and in the end everything gets enhanced.

In conclusion, my dear friend, please note that all of these recommendations are providing an additional hidden benefit: in order to eagerly follow your advice, it may happen that some student gets overslept and misses the exam... then you'll have one less paper to be graded. No small mercy.

Translated by Virginia Merchan. Some Rights Reserved. Not to be reproduced or quoted without citing the source and the author. Last updated Jan-13. Buenos Aires, Argentina.