Over the last five years, CIRAS has received many reports on fatigue. In fact, the data shows that 15% of our reports are about this issue. On the railway, our duty of care often extends beyond ourselves to our co-workers and the travelling public so managing fatigue is especially important.
There are many good reasons to prevent fatigue from taking hold - poor concentration and judgment, slower reaction times, and making dangerous decisions to name but a few.
If you find yourself regularly at work experiencing physical symptoms, such as drowsiness and your eyes closing involuntarily, it is time to act. The slope towards possible burnout is a slippery one and long-term health is at stake. What can we do to ensure we are looking after ourselves in the best possible way?
Get enough sleep
Aim for eight hours’ sleep. Some individuals will need slightly less and some slightly more. Remember that just an hour less than your usual requirement of sleep can start to impact your health at the genetic level after only a week. Blood test research reveals that around 500 genes are switched on or off by changes in sleeping patterns. A good night’s sleep is enormously important. You can’t cheat your body and mind if you’re sleep deprived.
Set up a bedroom routine
Bedrooms are for sleeping or so you’d think. Not so in many households these days. Large screen TVs and an invasion of smartphones and tablets can make bedrooms anything but restful. These devices are also known for emitting blue light which interfere with sleep. Enforce the discipline of a ‘digital sunset’ to restore a good night’s sleep to the bedroom.
In addition, there’s no harm in setting the alarm clock to start the bedroom routine off each night. It will help you time your winding down and keep regular hours. Ensure you block out any light, using blackout blinds if necessary, to avoid interfering with the body’s circadian rhythms. Take steps to block out any disturbing noise too.
Get enough exercise
Exercise plays an important role in regulating our sleep. Just avoid exercising within two to three hours of your bedtime. Early morning exercise is a different matter though. Exercising before work starts can increase alertness on the job. Work out the best way of integrating activity into your routine. Cycling to work, or walking there briskly as part of your commute, can boost your health without having to change your routine too much.
There has also been a proliferation of smartphone workout apps which make routines less daunting. A personal favourite of mine is a seven-minute workout which makes it far easier to find the discipline to get started.
Eat and drink well
Eating well certainly doesn’t mean overeating. A balance of healthy foods and plenty of water can stop our energy levels from fluctuating too much. Foods with high sugar content and refined carbohydrates provide an initial boost, but don’t deliver sustained energy over a longer period. Dehydration lowers our level of alertness. An alcoholic drink or two before bedtime might seem like a good idea to relax, but sleep quality is affected.
Eating and drinking mindfully means being alert to what the body needs. Fully appreciate what you consume so you don’t overconsume. Stay away from the vending machine!
Increase social contact
Another great tip to fight on-the-job tiredness is to start a conversation with co-workers if you find your attention flagging. The social interaction is likely to provide a much-needed boost if suffering from mid-afternoon drowsiness - due to the body’s Circadian rhythms, we tend to experience a drop in alertness at this time.
If you feel you are managing your health in a sensible way but are still feeling fatigued, then let your employer know. If you have tried reporting internally and the issue remains unresolved, or you don’t feel you can speak out at work, you can use CIRAS.