Sleep deprivation: Safety, You and Others

A couple of days ago, I wrote on the deadly health effects of sleep deprivation. Today, I need to let you know that sleep deprivation doesn’t just affect your health, it could affect the safety of yourself and those around you. Remember sleep deprivation is not only linked to heart disorders and cancer, it de-energises you and is also linked to behavioral disorders.

Can you think for a minute what these could result in if someone who was sleep deprived had to work with machines, electricity or operate a forklift? Catastrophe! There would be accidents and possibly fatalities. People around you especially in high hazard workplaces will be in great danger just being around you. Take for example driving a forklift when drowsy! You will not be able to concentrate and will lack coordination. You will make wrong judgements. Let me use driving as a good example as I am sure many of us can relate to it.

Sleep and Driving
Once upon a time, I worked for an agency that sent me to most of South East England and Hertfordshire to work. I “travelled” from Luton to Milton Keynes, Chesham, Amersham, Aylesbury, Hemel Hempstead, Harpenden, St. Albans and surrounding areas to work. Sometimes I worked nights and would have to drive from these locations back to Luton and the journeys took a good 45-60 minutes, sometimes more if there was traffic congestion. How I made it back in one piece I really can’t say. Sometimes I would be so tired and a little sleepy but somehow I would make the journey back to Luton. Sometimes I ended up trying to sleep at home (most times I struggled) or in class attending lectures!

I have heard of people falling asleep while driving and ending up in accidents. It once happened to a cousin on third mainland bridge, he wasn’t coming from a night shift but he says he was tired and there was a bit of congestion but he must have slept off for a few seconds and only woke when he felt the collision and heard the sound. He didn’t get hurt neither did the people in the other vehicle – infact they felt sorry for him once they realised sleep was to blame. The truth is they were lucky but this is hardly the result you get in an accident in a place like this – more often than not there are casualties and fatalities. Now those of you in Lagos Nigeria know third mainland bridge very well. It is not a place to have a flat tyre not to talk of an accident!

Apart from the dangers of driving after a night shift, there is also the risk of motor accidents for those who work multiple shifts and hardly get time to rest. Here are some facts I got off workpsychology.net concerning sleep deprivation and making the right judgements:

  • Drowsy driving causes 1 million crashes, 500,000 injuries, and 8,000 deaths each year in the U.S.
  • Just one sleepless night can impair performance as much as a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 percent, beyond the legal limit to drive.
  • Like alcohol, sleep deprivation also affects judgment, making it harder to assess how impaired you are when you’re tired.

I could go on and on about why sleep deprivation and work can’t ever be friends. I have mentioned the dangers in this article and in the previous one but now, let me give some tips on how you can make changes at work and hopefully get a better sleep life.

Make big changes at work

    1. Talk to your manager about your rota/shift pattern. In the sleep deprivation, health and reduced life expectancy article, I mentioned that at a point in my life (some good 8 years ago), I worked at a job that required me to start an early shift as early as 7am sometimes after a night shift that ended at 10pm. If this is what you are having to do now, you need to change it immediately. Speak to your manager or supervisor (feel free to show them my sleep deprivation posts) – your employer should be willing to do whatever it takes to have a healthy and engaging workforce.

    If you have finished a late shift, the next day should either be a late shift also or an off-day. After an off-day, you can immediately start an early shift. There should be at least 11 hours between shifts.

    If working nights, make sure you don’t do it for years. If you have to work nights (sometimes you really don’t have a choice seeing as you have to earn a living) make sure you do not exceed 3 nights a week. Your off days should be spent sleeping and resting, not on another job ?.

    2. Let your sleeping pattern be consistent. Go to bed at about the same time every night and wake up at the same time too ensuring you get at least 7hours sleep. After a while, you will notice you won’t need an alarm clock to get you up as your body will get accustomed to going to bed and waking up at a certain time.

    3. Do you keep waking during the night for no particular reason? There was a time in my life I used to wake up from sleep coughing and coughing. There was nothing in the room making me cough but after a while I realised it was because I was keeping the windows shut for fear of mosquitoes. I had this belief that they were able to penetrate the nets at the window and was prepared to choose heat over mosquitoes. I convinced myself they weren’t coming in through the windows and started opening the window at night for fresh air and the coughing suddenly stopped.

    Photo from dreamtimeinc.com

    Photo from dreamtimeinc.com

    Examine your sleep environment. What makes you keep waking up at night? Are the curtains too light and allows light in, then you can try replacing them with blinds or use a sleep mask. Do you hear noise from neighbours or the streets? Then try ear plugs. Mosquitos? Use an insecticide a couple of hours before going to bed… Etc.

    4. Exercise regularly. Not just any exercise, the killer ones that manage to break you down. I promise you, you will sleep too well. I remember my first spin class on a Saturday morning at my local gym. The class lasted 1 hour – it was the toughest 1 hour of my life. My legs were shaking by the time the class was over. I managed to walk home (lol), couldn’t even take a shower and just laid on my bed to ‘rest’. I woke up 5 hours later feeling more alive than ever! I loved the feeling. I decided to save those draining class for when I get back from work just so I could have a fantastic sleepful night 🙂

    5. Never go to sleep hungry – diet or no diet. Now some people say avoid heavy meals before going to bed. I try to do this but I realised that sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night really hungry and unable to return to sleep. I am only able to sleep after I get up and eat something! Now I never skip dinner except on rare occasions. I try to eat at least two to three hours before bedtime.

    6. Avoid excess alcohol. Alcohol before bed makes it difficult to sleep. People often assume that alcohol makes you sleep real good but from experience I know it does the reverse. I hardly drink but when I turned 30, I had a good party and drank lots of champagne. I got drowsy really quick but when I got home and landed on my bed, I was unable to sleep. I think I had mini-nightmares – at some point I thought my head was going to come off, each time I opened my eyes I had to quickly shut them as it seemed things were spinning around me. I really struggled so hard to sleep.

Dear Employer
I keep talking about the benefits of a healthy workforce to businesses and I am going to say it again because you have a huge role to play in easing sleep deprivation in your workplace. When you do this, you enjoy improved safety, less accidents, high productivity and reduced costs to your company. Let your staff take frequent breaks especially if they perform hazardous tasks. Don’t restrict what your staff does with their break time. If one decides to take a nap during his lunch break, then let him. A little nap can help an individual stay alert for hours.

#BeHSEWise