Health care workers are not sleeping properly. And it’s not just exhausting, it’s dangerous, according to a recent inquiry into sleep health.
On 13 September 2018 a report from the Minister for Health, Aged Care and Sport, The Hon Greg Hunt MP, prompted an inquiry into Sleep Health Awareness in Australia.
Over two months, the report was contributed to by several Australian practitioners and sleep specialists including Associate Professor Alan Young from the Australian Sleep Association and Professor Matthew Walker, author of “Why We Sleep.”
The report looked into the functions of sleep, the requirements and benefits of good sleep health, as well as inadequate sleep and sleep disorders, and lifestyle factors in and out of the workplace that contribute to poor sleep health.
And this is vital knowledge for most Healthcare workers, particularly those on the shift work train (most of you!) According to the report, the Sleep Health Foundation reported the accident rate of shift workers doubles that of non-shift workers in Australia, and that it’s,
‘highly likely that much of this additional risk is sleep-related.’
Adding to the risk it places on shift workers while at their jobs––and their colleagues and patients––poor sleep health also poses very great risks on the shift workers driving home from their shift, with a heightened risk of vehicle accidents reported from lack of sleep.
Ongoing risk to physical and mental health is another very real and relevant risk for Healthcare workers that work shift work––with the job itself already toiling on these areas for many. The Austin Health and Institute for Breathing and Sleep poor management of sleep by shift workers can lead to the ‘development of mental and physical health disorders’, as well as putting many at risk of workplace errors and accidents.
Other effects on physical health caused by poor sleep health are; weight gain, sleep apnoea, insomnia, and cumulative fatigue which can lead to worsened health.
The Committee at the helm of the report, in their final comments, recommended that Australian Government work with the states and territories on the following areas:
- Developing a nationally consistent approach to working hours and rest breaks for shift workers;
- Sleep health screenings for shift workers;
- Guidelines recommended by Safe Work Australia and the Alertness CRC drive the changes.
So what can we do individually to improve our own sleep health?
We’ve put together a small checklist based on some of the findings of the report:
- Latenight Bluelight disco is a no-no.
The inquiry paid particular attention to educating people (especially children) on how the use of a smartphone before bed can seriously affect the quality of your sleep. It’s suggested that limiting your use of all blue light devices––smartphone, computer, iPad and televisions––throughout your waking hours will promote more restful sleep. Take it a step further by switching all devices off about an hour before you go down to sleep and you’ll see huge improvements.
- Cognitive Sleeping.
The report touched on many sleep disorders and appropriate management of them, with a few cognitive techniques mentioned as a way to improving overall sleep health, such as; Relaxation training,
Cognitive therapy, and Mindfulness therapy. All of these can be discussed with a therapist––particularly cognitive therapy around dysfunctional thoughts and attitudes around sleep–– but some can be tackled on your own. Begin by practising short relaxation exercises before bed and see where that takes you.
- Cut the crap.
Coffee, alcohol and cigarettes do have a way of getting you through a shift sometimes, but while they feel like they’re your friends at the moment, they are doing your sleep health damage. Try and replace coffee with herbal tisanes or hot water and lemon. Alcohol is one that so many nurses can use as a tool to relax after a shift and get to sleep, but it is actually having an adverse effect in your brain. Alcohol reduces the quality of your sleep and will actually cause your waking hours to be even more of a slog.
Other obvious factors such as regular sleeping times (which is near impossible on some shift rosters) and more sleep will also help. The main objective is to be more mindful overall of your sleep health and prioritising it as an extension of your work responsibilities.
You’ll be surprised how a little tweaking around your sleep health can improve your whole life. Try it, you might like it!