This Op-Ed was originally posted by The Globe and Mail on June 4th, 2019. It is written by Dr. Bill Howatt of The Conference Board of Canada.
How many hours of sleep do you get before a typical day of work?
Too many people is show up to work fatigued because of a lack of sleep.
Beyond feeling tired and sleepy, a person who is fatigued due to sleep loss may also experience symptoms such as dizziness, sore muscles, slow reflexes, irritability and moodiness. They may feel physically weaker, have poor concentration and blurry vision, struggle with short-term memory and experience loss of appetite or impaired hand-eye co-ordination.
When thinking of fatigue, one may intuitively think the root cause is a lack of sleep.
Fatigue can also be caused by heavy physical job demands, shift work, sleep disturbances (such as a partner snoring, a child waking in the night), long hours of work, insufficient breaks, having more than one job, changes at work, job change, taking care of elderly parents or children, high levels of chronic work-related stress, medical reasons (including sleep apnea, restless leg, insomnia or mental illness such as depression), an increase in the mental demands of their job, alcohol or drug use, poor diet, lack of movement or any combination of the above.
Fatigue can be defined as mental or physical exhaustion that prevents a person from being able to function safely or effectively. It can be caused by spending long stretches awake or gaps of good sleep over a period.
Research has shown that the number of hours awake can have similar effects to blood-alcohol levels:
- 17 hours awake is equivalent to a blood-alcohol content of 0.05
- 21 hours awake is equivalent to a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 (legal limit in Canada)
- 24-25 hours awake is equivalent to a blood-alcohol content of 0.10
A person who is fatigued due to lack of sleep can increase their risk for impairment that can result in accidents at work, or on the way to and from work. ACCOUNTABILITY
If you’re concerned about fatigue, the first action is to become aware of your current risk. Take three minutes and complete the Fatigue Risk Quick Survey that’s designed to assist you to screen the degree of risk fatigue may be having on your ability to function to your full potential in the workplace. Ignoring fatigue can be dangerous to your own and others’ safety. Keep in mind when exploring fatigue that there’s often a root cause, such as lifestyle, medical condition or work-related issue. If you determine that you’re at risk for fatigue, get support to better understand the root cause and the best option to take control of your situation.
To function to our full potential we need to feel rested. When fatigue becomes our normal state, we’re at increased risk. Pro-active steps to mitigate risk for developing chronic fatigue include prevention, early detection and getting professional support. Often, awareness and lifestyle changes can help you move from feeling fatigue to rested.
Following are a few actions you can take to deal with concerns about fatigue:
Caffeine – Moderate your caffeine intake. The half-life of caffeine is about five hours, which means that if you have taken in 200 mg of caffeine, after five hours you will still have 100 mg in your body. A cup of brewed coffee (237 ml, or 8 oz.) has about 95 mg of caffeine. The Mayo Clinic suggests that up to 400 mg a day is likely safe for a healthy adult. If you’re struggling with fatigue, eliminate all forms of caffeine several hours before attempting sleep.
Sleep hygiene – Design a sleep game plan that can assist in creating a pre-sleep routine. One important guideline to consider is for every seven days, you get at least 50 hours of sleep. If this isn’t the case, you are putting yourself at risk for feeling fatigued in the workplace.
Food awareness – Eating a heavy meal before going to bed can disrupt sleep, as can going to bed on an empty stomach. If you feel hungry before you go to bed, having a light snack may help, but ensure it’s easy for your body to digest, such as fruit and yogurt.
Medical checkup – If you are struggling with sleep and fatigue and it’s chronic, meaning it’s been going on for several weeks, meet with your doctor to get a baseline to ensure no medical conditions such as sleep apnea or mental-health issues such as depression are causing your concerns.
Communicate fatigue concerns with your manager – If you’re struggling with a shift schedule, workload or work-related stress, discuss your concern with your direct manager to determine what kind of support may be available. Many managers understand that if not dealt with early, fatigue can result in more sick time, accidents and short-term disability.