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A Employee’s Guide to Fatigue Management

What is fatigue?

Fatigue is described by Safe Work Australia as feeling more than tired or drowsy. “It is a mental state and/or physical exhaustion that reduces a person’s ability to perform work safely and effectively”. There are multiple causes including:

• prolonged or intense mental or physical activity
• sleep loss or disruption of your internal body clock
• long shifts
• short recovery times between shifts
• strenuous jobs
• long commuting times
• poor sleep
• family demands

The danger of fatigue

Fatigue can increase the risks of incidents mainly caused by a lack of awareness and slower reaction times. Fatigue can therefore reduce a worker’s ability to perform work duties. Fatigue can become a risk when:

• operating fixed or mobile plant including driving vehicles
• undertaking critical tasks that require a high level of concentration
• undertaking night or shift work when a person would ordinarily be sleeping

How does fatigue affect Australians?​

A recent study of 1500 Australians by Hillman and Lack (2013) has shown that a large proportion of the population is suffering from poor sleep/ or fatigue symptoms. As a matter of fact, one in four Australians (23.7%) regularly do not obtain adequate sleep. 23.5% experience fatigue or exhaustion several times per week. Furthermore, daytime sleepiness was most noticeable in the 18-24 years age group (26.2%), while a common symptom of insomnia (waking up a lot during the night) was most prevalent in the 35-49 years age group (42.6%). The study shows that sleeping difficulties arise across all age groups and genders within Australia.

How much sleep do you need?

Sleep is essential for both physical and mental wellbeing, and you need to get enough regularly to perform at your best. The National Health Foundation in the US estimates that most adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep every night. The numbers vary depending on the individual.

Over the years, the amount of sleep a person obtains in average has decreased significantly through history. In 1900, the average sleep length was 9 hours. After light bulbs became available, this number decreased to 8 hours. Nowadays, it is an average of 7 hours. Many believe it is due to the rise of internet and social networking. Despite our average sleep hours decreasing, it doesn’t mean that we have adapted to need less sleep. Simply put, we are becoming more and more sleep deprived.

How to improve your sleep?

• Allocate enough time to being in bed for sleep. Remember most adults need 7 – 9 hours of sleep each night.
• Go to bed when you feel the “sleep wave”. Usually after 9 pm. This increases the chances of getting to sleep easily.
• Develop a sleep routine. Doing the same things before going to bed each night within 20 – 30 min of your bed time will help your brain to understand when it is time to go to sleep.
• Avoid caffeine or nicotine before going to bed. It can reduce the amount of time spent in deep sleep.
• Exercise and sleep. Vigorous exercise in the morning is one of the few things you can do to improve the amount of deep sleep.
• Avoid exercising too close from your bed time (at least 2 – 3 hours before).
• Get your bedroom conditions right. Ensure you have a comfortable pillow and mattress and control the temperature room between 18 – 22 degrees Celsius. • Avoid sunlight by ensuring you have thick curtains or roller shutters. If noise is causing you poor sleep, you can use soundproofing, keep pets outside the room or get your partner assessed if your partner snores.
• Avoid sleep medications. Many are limited in their usefulness and can lead to long term dependency.

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