There is a type of worker impairment that is so dangerous that everyone that is an adult worker has experienced at one point in time during their working career. It is not the use of alcohol, drugs, or some other impairing substance, but it is fatigue from lack of adequate sleep.
Everyone has experienced a time when they reported to work when they were too tired to perform their job at an acceptable and safe level. Some may have experienced an episode of what is called microsleep. Microsleep is where your body and brain shut down for a few seconds and then suddenly you are startled back awake. This is usually the result of extreme sleep deprivation and lack of proper rest.
There are several reasons for increased risk factors. One is simple sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation can be identified as being awake for too many hours without allowing the body to shut down and rest properly. Another risk factor is circadian variability. Anytime there is a change in the circadian rhythm such as a change in time zones, or a change in work shifts, as in going from a day shift to a night shift assignment, the body has to adjust to the rhythm that will accommodate that change. Typically, it takes six consecutive nights (or days) for the body to adjust to the new waking and sleeping schedule. This can cause what many people refer to as jetlag, when you travel from one time zone to another with a two to three-hour time difference.
Another issue and fatigue risk is time awake. Many doctors and nurses have experienced extreme fatigue after staying awake and working for periods of up to twenty-four hours straight. It has been determined that at the twenty-four-hour mark you are impaired to the point as if you had consumed enough alcohol to reach a .08 intoxication. Just one sleepless night can impair performance as much as a blood alcohol level of .10%, which is beyond the legal limit to drive. When this fatigue point is reached, the attention level is at its lowest point, where the employee has become a hazard to themselves and others.
Health factors can also be considered risk factors. Sleeping disorders such as sleep apnea or narcolepsy can cause people to have deep sleep deprivation to the point of becoming a hazard. There are also certain medications that can cause amplify the fatigue factors. Some of these can be painkillers such as opiates, which can cause a drugged, fatigued feel when taking them, as well as medication that may be over-the-counter that can cause hypersensitivity and excitability in some people due to the level of caffeine and other stimulant ingredients. These items can interfere with the natural sleep rhythm.
Environmental issues can also be a problem. Excessive light and noise can keep people from being able to sleep soundly. Many times when traveling you may notice that not being in your normal home setting where you have the same amount of light in the same level of noise as well as the same temperature around you, can impact getting a good night sleep. Workload is also one of the risk factors that can cause extreme fatigue factors. If a workload is extremely heavy, and it is stretched out over a full shift of work, extreme fatigue can result in a lack of restful sleep can not only impair you on the job, they can affect your ability to get to and from the job. Impaired drivers and fatigued drivers are almost equal in their lack of ability to respond in an emergency situation. Drowsy driving causes approximately 1,000,000 crashes and 8,000 deaths each year in the US.
To try to ensure that you do not report to work in an impaired state due to a lack of sleep, there are a number of steps that you can take to try and consistently get a good night of restful sleep. Here are a few examples of that:
Establish a consistent sleep schedule. Go to bed and get up about same time every day.
Evaluate your sleep environment. Is there something keeping you awake? If it is noise, wear ear plugs or use a white noise items such as a running band. If it is light, try using room darkening shades or wear a sleep mask.
Exercise regularly. It is hard to feel drowsy if you have been sedentary all day. Do not exercise right before bedtime, because activity speeds up your metabolism and makes it harder to go to sleep.
Limit caffeine and alcohol intake. Caffeine can linger in your body for up to twelve hours and cause insomnia. Although alcohol may make you drowsy at first, it interferes with the normal sleep-wake cycle.
Avoid a heavy meal and drinking large amounts of liquid before bed.
Do not lie in bed tossing and turning. If you are unable to fall asleep in thirty minutes, get up and do something else. Read, play solitaire, or try other relaxing activities. Returned to bed when you feel drowsy.
Nap only in the afternoon. This is when our circadian rhythm tends to make you sleepy. Do not let naps interfere with your normal sleep schedule.
Establish a relaxing nighttime ritual that puts you in the mood sleep. Take a warm shower, relax in a comfortable chair, put on your favorite robe. Doing this consistently will queue your mind and body that it is time to wind down. If none of these steps help you in getting a good night sleep, it may be necessary to consult with your physician to let them know all the steps you have taken and your inability to rest properly. It may be necessary to have a sleep study performed and use a sleep apparatus such as a CPAP, or some other device to help you physically get the type of rest at your body needs.