FIFO Focus director Sandra Lam joins Big Al as part of the REDFM series FIFO Life.
In part 12, Sandra talks about the four factors that FIFO workers need to manage in order to improve their sleep quality.
Why is sleep an issue for FIFO Workers?
Sleep management is a big issue for FIFO workers as a lack of sleep can lead to irritability, lack of energy, poor concentration and risk taking behaviours. There are a number of common contributory factors that work against them getting enough sleep.
- Time: The most common barrier to sleep is quite simply finding time for sufficient rest. FIFO workers typically work long shifts, usually around 12 hours each day. There are also many important activities (i.e. getting ready for work, commuting, family contact, eating, exercising, social media, socialising and winding down from work) which means most people can’t get the recommended 7-9 hours (yes, 7-9 hours) of sleep time when on site.
- Rosters: Night shifts, longer work hours, early morning starts (e.g. before 6 AM) all impact routines and sleep patterns.
- Camp design: Some FIFO camps are not conducive to healthy sleep hygiene. Juggling night shift workers with day shift workers, hearing the cleaners next door and general poor noise insulation, proximity to the canteen and machinery, poor lighting and/or curtains, temperature control and sub-standard bedding, all impact on quality of sleep.
- Alcohol and food to curb boredom: Many FIFO workers find there is nothing else to do on site except to ‘have a few’ or to just eat more than required. Both of these options tend to impact on the quality of sleep.
- Obesity: An industry study found that three quarters of people were overweight or obese. Whether the industry itself causes this rate of obesity due to availability of healthy foods has yet to be confirmed but regardless, we know that sleep disorders are more prevalent in people who are overweight, therefore leading to increased physical fatigue due to poor sleep.
We need sleep for these four reasons
Sleep is extremely important for a number of reasons:
- Recover – sleep in critical to allow the body to rest and allow for cellar growth and repair
- Restore – it is during sleep that the body replenishes its energy level
- Reorganise – brain and memory reorganization occurs when you sleep – neural connections are pruned and cleared
- Reinforce your new learnings from the day – to learn something new, you need to replay it while you sleep.
In the simplest of terms, sleep isn’t a state of idleness. It’s quite the opposite – we need sleep to HEAL. You’ve probably heard of the 5 stages of sleep and two of the stages being very important – deep sleep, and REM sleep. Just quickly, deep sleep is about physical healing, and REM sleep is about psychological healing.
Focus on these four factors to improve your sleep
There are four main factors that affect the quality of your sleep and we need to address them to sleep better.
Physical health problems can stop you from getting a good night’s sleep. We’ve all experienced colds, blocked noses, being sick in general – speak to your doctor or chemist and get medication to relieve these.
Insomnia, night terrors, snoring, sleepwalking and sleep apnoea – if you experience any of these sleep disorders you should seek professional medical assistance to help to overcome them.
Mental health problems like anxiety and depression can also affect our sleep. So see your GP or mental health professional to get help.
As best you can, make your room dark, cool and quiet. Use eye masks, ear plugs and blue tac all the little lights in the room for a better night’s sleep.
Be mindful of the presence of gadgets and electronics, such as computers, phones, tablets and TVs. The backlit ‘blue light’ displays suppress melatonin production – the hormone that helps you sleep. You should stop using these devices two hours before you go to sleep to reduce their impact on your sleeping.
The temperature of the room is also important. Try and keep it relatively cool, and have warm bedding.
Make sleep something you associate with as positive. Look forward to it. Smile when you get into bed. Be grateful for it. Associate bed with good.
Thinking about sleep too much or trying to force yourself to sleep will only keep you awake. If you have things on your mind, write them down and make a conscious decision to deal with it tomorrow. Sleep may help you with clarity. If you’re finding it difficult to get to sleep, don’t just lie there worrying. Get up for a few minutes and get a drink (of water!), sit and read a book and go back to bed when you’re feeling a bit sleepier.
Learning how to relax both your body and mind will help you to get to sleep much more easily. Muscle relaxation techniques and other forms of mental relaxation and mindfulness will help.
Eating healthy complex carbohydrates (the good stuff) produce chemicals that increase our desire to sleep. Food and drink containing lots of caffeine or sugar can keep you awake, so drinking less tea, coffee and energy drinks, and eating less chocolate and sugary foods late in the day, might help you to sleep better.
Getting regular exercise is a great way of helping yourself sleep better. Avoid vigorous exercise a couple of hours before sleep as it creates adrenaline which makes it hard to sleep.
Although it can make you feel tired and can help you get to sleep, alcohol often impairs the quality of your sleep and makes you more likely to wake up during the night as the effects wear off. You may need to go to the toilet frequently or get up to drink water if you are dehydrated.
Seek help and keep a sleep diary
Keeping a sleep diary can be useful to look for patterns and triggers of poor sleep. We’ve attached one for you to use. If you prefer to use Apps, there are some available – such as Sleep Cycle. Fitbits and smart watches now have this functionality too so can be useful.
If you’ve tried all these things, and still find it difficult, don’t be afraid to seek help. Remember, dealing with sleep issues can sometimes be easier than dealing with the health problems that can result if you don’t nip it in the bud.