There seems to be an epidemic of under-sleeping these days. This year alone, seven air traffic controllers have been caught sleeping on duty. In two well-publicized cases, pilots were heard nearly pleading with control towers to guide them in. (The planes landed safely.) The most recent incident occurred Saturday, when a controller was observed sleeping at a Florida tower. (He did not miss any calls from pilots.) In response, the FAA has adjusted controllers' schedules and mandated that additional controllers be assigned during sleepy midnight shifts. Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, Los Angeles/Ontario International Airport in Ontario and San Diego International — among 27 airports nationwide with a single controller on duty during the midnight shift — will be assigned more controllers.
Of course, they're not the only workers who get so fatigued that they fall asleep on the job. In 2007, a videotape was released of guards sleeping on duty at a Pennsylvania nuclear power plant. In 2008, two pilots flying a small commercial jet from Honolulu to Hilo fell asleep and overshot the airport by 15 miles before returning and landing safely. Less dangerously — except, perhaps, in terms of his image — Vice President Joe Biden was seen either briefly nodding off or meditating as he sat in the audience at President Obama's speech on the deficit last week.