Work, Sleep & Fatigue
You are what you do. Look at any job and you will find a unique worker health profile. A sheep shearer has one of the most physical jobs burning over 5000 calories a day whereas a desk worker struggles to burn calories above the level needed to remain conscious. Furthermore, medical workers and the farming community have among the highest rates of suicide compared with other jobs. Additionally, hospitality workers are among the heaviest drinkers and publicans are the most likely occupation to die of cirrhosis of the liver.
The type of work you do and when and where you do it all impacts on your physical and mental wellbeing. When it comes to sleep and fatigue, politicians, on-call doctors, and long-haul truck drivers leave most other jobs napping.
Each job has its own health profile which is surprisingly stable, often over decades, even though people come and go. There is something about the industry itself that sustains the health profile of workers within it. So it is that your job affects your sleep, sleepiness and levels of fatigue.
For instance, you may find yourself in a job where work performance is judged by hours at the desk and there is a culture that compels you to work longer hours without complaint. Shiftwork is another example of a job where you, the worker, must remain alert during periods of day and night when your body wants to sleep.
Whatever your occupation, whether you are aware of it or not, each day you make decisions about how you manage your work, sleep and fatigue.
Sleepy workers make more mistakes and have more accidents. Being awake for 16 hours impairs physical and mental performance as much as a blood alcohol concentration of .05. Australian research shows that one in five fatal road accidents can be attributed to driver fatigue. Fatigue was a contributing factor in disasters such as the Chernobyl nuclear reactor meltdown, the Challenger space shuttle crash, and the sinking of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker. In other words, the benefits of getting the right balance between work and sleep extend beyond the individual and include the company and the wider community.
The doziest job in the world
Population studies of sleep show that many jobs involve long hours being worked sporadically, but several occupations are clear winners on the sleepiness scale. For instance, politicians, on-call doctors and long-haul truck drivers regularly manage to grab only 4-5 hours of sleep a day. It may be some cause of public concern when you think that politicians are expected to make decisions that determine your laws and govern your country while they are half asleep. Doctors hold your lives in their hands and read your test results while they can barely keep their eyes open. Long-haul truck drivers speed tonnes of steel and cargo through traffic while fighting 'the sandman'. This is not a criticism of the people who work within these occupations, but a recognition that some jobs have particular risks concerning workers' sleep and fatigue.
How much sleep do you need? A range of functions occur during sleep that keep you healthy. During sleep, the body rests and recharges energy stores for the next day. Growth and repair of injury occur predominantly during sleep. Additionally, your immune system becomes more active as you sleep, helping you fight infection. Sleep is also important for your mental health. During sleep, your memories and experiences are sorted and stored and your mood and emotions are moderated.
The Epworth Sleepiness Test
Source: Johns M. A new method for measuring daytime sleepiness: The Epworth Sleepiness Scale. Sleep 1991; 14(6):540-5
A good measure of how well you are sleeping is your level of sleepiness during the day.
Answer the questions using the following score guide:
Would never doze
Slight chance of dozing
Moderate chance of dozing
High chance of dozing
Sitting & Reading
Sitting inactive in a public place (i.e. theatre)
As a car passenger for an hour without a break
Lying down to rest in the afternoon
Sitting & talking to someone
Sitting quietly after lunch without alcohol
In a car, while stopping for a few minutes in traffic
1 - 7
8 - 10
11 - 15
16 - 20
21 - 24
If you are worried about your level of sleepiness, talk to your doctor.
How do you compare?
Take a minute to think about your own industry regarding sleep and fatigue. How does it compare to the average 7-8 hours sleep of Australians? As with every aspect of your health and fitness, your quality of sleep and levels of fatigue are affected by your work and also by your personal characteristics and how you manage your personal life. In the meantime, complete the checklist below. It will help you identify personal and work-related strategies for better sleep and less fatigue.
The past century has seen a global trend towards longer working and waking hours. In the early nineteen hundreds, the average night's sleep was 9-10 hours but in the 21st Century, the average is 7-8 hours. Interestingly, your need for sleep changes over your lifetime. Children and teens need around 10 hours of sleep per night, but a 65-year-old only needs about 6 hours of sleep. However, exactly how much sleep you need varies from person to person. Specifically, it tends to be in the range of 6-9 hours.
Test yourself - are you doing all you can for better sleep and less fatigue?
Checklist for better sleep
Checklist to avoid fatigue*
*Especially for shift workers
Your sleep environment
Ready your body clock to start night-shift
|Sleep in a room that is cool, quiet and dark||❑||Have a short sleep before your shift begins||❑|
|Install curtains with backing, heavy drapes or blinds||❑||Ready yourself to come off nightshift for days off||❑|
|Have walls, windows and/or doors insulated||❑||Have a short sleep after your shift then stay awake until night||❑|
|Use the hum of a fan or air conditioner to mask outside noise||❑|| || |
|Use an answering machine/voice mail||❑|
Exercise and diet
|Talk to neighbours, family and friends about quiet time||❑||Snack smart on low glycemic index, healthy foods||❑|
|Sleep on a quality mattress||❑||Enjoy daily physical activity to keep fit||❑|
|Keep a note pad and pen by the bed to write down any thoughts or worries that may keep you awake||❑||For shift workers, have two meals at regular times and a light meal mid-shift||❑|
Your sleep routine
| ||Eat regular, healthy meals||❑|
|Have a regular sleep schedule||❑||Drink non-alcoholic, low-calorie fluids regularly||❑|
|Try different sleep times to find what is best for you||❑||Use caffeine to stay alert, but not within 4hrs of sleep||❑|
|Shower or bath before going to bed||❑||Do not use nicotine or amphetamines||❑|
|Eat a light meal before sleeping but don't over-eat||❑|
While you are at work
|Manage your social time around your sleep schedule||❑||Use light activity during work breaks to clear your head||❑|
What you eat
| ||If work gets boring, find useful things to do||❑|
|Stock the kitchen with healthy snacks and meals||❑||Keep your mind active eg. by listening to the radio||❑|
|Avoid excessive alcohol before sleep||❑||Do not drive if you are worried that you can't stay awake||❑|
|Don't drink too much fluid just before sleep||❑||Protect your sleep time, don't take on extra work||❑|
How you relax
Your work conditions and clothing
|Don't rely on sleeping tablets||❑||Wear comfortable clothing and supportive footwear||❑|
|Have at least 30min quiet time before going to bed||❑||Have a well-lit work area that is cool, dry and well-ventilated||❑|
|Learn and practice a relaxation skill||❑|| || |
|Each box without a tick is a step you can take for better sleep|| ||Each box without a tick is a step you can take to avoid fatigue|| |
Get it Now!
Download your own checklist and improve your sleep today
Download the checklist
Well, how did your better sleep checklist go?
Got some areas to work on now, right? The checklist just acts as a guide to help you pinpoint some actions you can take. Actions to help you improve your sleep patterns so you feel less fatigue.
Let me know in the comments below how you got on.