The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes fatigue as a public health problem, with sleep insufficiency linked to vehicle crashes, industrial disasters, and medical and other occupational errors. Drowsy driving, for instance, is responsible for 1,550 fatalities and 40,000 nonfatal injuries annually in the United States.
Sleep on This
Persons experiencing sleep insufficiency are also more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity, as well as from cancer, increased mortality, and reduced quality of life and productivity. In fact, 3–5% of the overall proportion of obesity in adults can be attributable to short sleep.
Sleep insufficiency may be caused by broad scale societal factors such as round-the-clock access to technology and work schedules, but sleep disorders such as insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea also play an important role.
According to data from the National Health Interview Survey, respondents reported the following:
– 37.9% reported unintentionally falling asleep during the day at least once in the preceding month
– 4.7% reported nodding off or falling asleep while driving at least once in the preceding month
– Nearly 30% reported getting an average of less than 6 hours of sleep per day
Effects of Fatigue in the Workplace
– Worker fatigue increases the risk for illnesses and injuries. Accident and injury rates are 18% greater during evening shifts and 30% greater during night shifts when compared to day shifts.
– Research indicates that working 12 hours per day is associated with a 37% increased risk of injury.
– Decreased alertness from worker fatigue has been a contributing factor in:
- Industrial disasters such as the 2005 Texas City BP oil refinery explosion, the 2009 Colgan Air Crash, the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger and the nuclear accidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island
- Direct or indirect links to increased costs from lost productivity, increased injury and illness costs, increased time off the job due to illness and increased workers’ compensation costs
- An estimated annual cost of $136.4 billion from fatigue-related, health-related lost productive work time to employers
Sleep Hygiene Tips to Reduce Fatigue-Related Accidents
The promotion of good sleep habits and regular sleep is known as sleep hygiene. The following sleep hygiene tips can be used to improve sleep:
– Try to keep a consistent sleep schedule
– Avoid large meals before bedtime
– Don’t check your phone before bedtime
– Avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime
– Avoid nicotine
– Try to get 7-9 hours of sleep a night
To expand on these, practice a relaxing bedtime ritual. A relaxing, routine activity right before bedtime conducted away from bright lights helps separate your sleep time from activities that can cause excitement, stress or anxiety which can make it more difficult to fall asleep, get sound and deep sleep or remain asleep.
If you have trouble sleeping, avoid naps, especially in the afternoon. Power napping may help you get through the day, but if you find that you can’t fall asleep at bedtime, eliminating even short catnaps may help.
Exercise daily. Vigorous exercise is best, but even light exercise is better than no activity. Exercise at any time of day, but not at the expense of your sleep.
Evaluate your room.
Design your sleep environment to establish the conditions you need for sleep. Your bedroom should be cool – between 60 and 67 degrees. Your bedroom should also be free from any noise that can disturb your sleep. Finally, your bedroom should be free from any light. Check your room for noises or other distractions. This includes a bed partner’s sleep disruptions such as snoring. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, “white noise” machines, humidifiers, fans and other devices.
For more information about “sleep hygiene” and for tips to ensure you’re well-rested, preview RedVector’s Smart Sleeping course.
Want more free safety training resources on additional topics like hazard recognition and falls? Check out our coverage here.
Week 2: June 10 – Slips, Trip and Falls
Week 3: June 17 – Fatigue
Week 4: June 24 – Impairment
Smith CS, Folkard D, Tucker P, Evans MS . Work schedules, health, and safety. In Quick JC, Tetrick LE, eds. Handbook of occupational health psychology, 2nd ed.. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, pp. 185 – 204.
Dembe A, Ericson JB, Delbos RG, Banks SM . The impact of overtime and long work hours on occupational injuries and illnesses: New evidence from the United States. Occup Environ Med 62:588_597.