When we think of fatigue, we often think of little or no sleep, sleep disorders or accidents that have resulted from fatigued workers. While getting enough sleep is vital for fatigue management, and having systems in place at an organisational level to enable people to get enough sleep is critical, there are more factors to fatigue management at an individual level which are starting to gain visibility.
We have long known that exercise and diet are important influences on an individual’s fatigue tolerance and level. Exercise is proven to be good for both our physical and mental health. Research has shown that regular exercise can assist individuals in managing depression and anxiety and in this way, can also provide benefits for people who suffer insomnia due to stress and anxiety.
In addition to this, there is exciting research coming from the University of South Australia on the subject of fatigue and metabolism. Studies from the Centre for Sleep Research have shown that eating a meal during night shift, compared to eating nothing during this time, can result in less stable glucose levels and decreased performance. These studies have been completed in a controlled laboratory environment and further research is being conducted to examine the effect of time of day on the meal – that is, can you eat on night shift as long as it’s at a certain time? What we do know now, is that eating snacks across the night shift instead of one big meal, or eating that meal at the very start of the night shift will provide a more stable glucose level compared to eating a big meal halfway through the shift. The study group most closely mirrors control room workers, or personnel who are largely sedentary. Further research is needed to examine if being active on night shift (such as conducting maintenance during a shutdown) will require food intake or if it is still best to eat nothing during the night shift period for these personnel also.
The reason why this matters, is the link between conducting shiftwork and poorer health (compared to workers on day shift only) and in particular, the development of diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity and metabolic disease. By finding practical ways to reduce the burden on our metabolism that comes as a result of night shift, we can start to address some of these factors. There will always be individual factors which affect both performance and individual tolerance of, and reaction to, fatigue and it is important to stick with what works for you.