January 15

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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.

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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.

Work-life balance

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:

​0

​Would never doze

​1

​Slight chance of dozing

​2

​Moderate chance of dozing

​3

​High chance of dozing

​Situation

​SLeepiness Score

​Sitting & Reading

Cell

​Watching TV

Cell

​Sitting inactive in a public place (i.e. theatre)

Cell

​As a car passenger for an hour without a break

Cell

​Lying down to rest in the afternoon

Cell

​Sitting & talking to someone

Cell

​Sitting quietly after lunch without alcohol

Cell

​In a car, while stopping for a few minutes in traffic

Cell

​Total Score

Cell

​TOTal score

​rating

​1 - 7

​Optimal sleep

​8 - 10

​Mild  sleepiness

​11 - 15

​Moderate sleepiness

​16 - 20

​Severe sleepiness

​21 - 24

​Excessive sleepiness

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

Checklist for better sleep and less fatigue pdf download

​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.

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Paul Stokes

About the author

Paul Stokes BSc (Hons) is a Certified Personal Trainer, Accredited Sports Nutritionist, qualified Exercise to Music Instructor, Precision Nutrition coach, Massage Therapist and teaches 8 of the Les Mills Group Exercise programs. He currently works in the Oil & Gas industry as a Wellness Coach, imparting his vast knowledge and experience to improve the quality of life of several hundred offshore workers.

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