The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has touched all aspects of society including how we work. Emergency responders, health care workers, and others providing essential services to the community have been especially stretched thin, working longer hours than usual, working more shifts or even over-night, and leaving less time to sleep and recharge.
Under regular circumstances, adults need 7–9 hours of sleep per night, along with opportunities for rest while awake, optimal health, and well-being. Long work hours and shift work, combined with stressful or physically demanding work, can lead to poor sleep and extreme fatigue. Fatigue increases the risk for injury and deteriorating health (infections, illnesses, and mental health disorders).
While there is no one solution to fit everyone’s needs, here are some general strategies that workers and employers can use to manage workplace fatigue and work safely.
Recognize these are stressful and unusual circumstances and you may need more sleep or time to recover.
Tips to improve sleep:
- You’ll sleep better if your room is comfortable, dark, cool, and quiet.
- If it takes you longer than 15 minutes to fall asleep, set aside some time before bedtime to do things to help you relax. Try meditating, relaxation breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation.
- Before you begin working a long stretch of shifts, try “banking your sleep” – sleeping several extra hours longer than you normally do.
- After you’ve worked a long stretch of shifts, remember it may take several days of extended sleep (for example, 10 hours in bed) before you begin to feel recovered. Give yourself time to recover.
- Avoid sunlight or bright lights 90 minutes before you go to sleep, when possible. Exposure to light just before bedtime can cause you to feel more awake.
- If you work a night shift and drive home during sunlight hours, try wearing sunglasses to reduce your exposure to sunlight during your drive home.
- Consider using blackout shades at home when sleeping.
- Take naps when you have the opportunity.
- A 90-minute nap before working a night shift can help prevent you from feeling tired at work.
- Eat healthy foods and stay physically active because it can improve your sleep.
- Before you go to sleep, avoid foods and drinks that can make falling asleep more difficult:
- Avoid alcohol, heavy meals, and nicotine for at least 2–3 hours before bedtime.
- Don’t drink caffeine within 5 hours of bedtime.
Know what to do if you feel too tired to work safely.
- Use a buddy system while you’re at work. Check in with each other to ensure everyone is coping with work hours and demands.
- Watch yourself and your coworkers for signs of fatigue — like yawning, difficulty keeping your eyes open, and difficulty concentrating. When you see something, say something to your coworkers so you can prevent workplace injuries and errors.
- Find out if your employer has a formal program to help you manage fatigue on the job. Read information about the program and ask questions so you fully understand your employer’s policies and procedures for helping employees manage fatigue.
- Report any fatigue-related events or close-calls to a manager to help prevent injuries and errors.
- Do not work if your fatigue threatens the safety of yourself or others. Report to a manager when you feel too tired to work safely.