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Tiredness, fatigue and sleep

Tiredness, fatigue and sleep

Tessa Moriarty

What we have been through in recent years – and are still going through – has left many people feeling exhausted and fatigued.

It’s important that we acknowledge the external/environmental factors that impacted our wellbeing in the last three years.

The bushfires, the pandemic, the lockdowns, social isolation and war have contributed significantly to our exhaustion and fatigue – and stress. We need to acknowledge the stress from these external factors, manage our tiredness and monitor and manage our fatigue, because it impacts our work, our relationships, and our lives outside our jobs.

Giving ourselves permission to be more tired and fatigued because of external and environmental events is critical, because we are managing so much more than the tiredness and fatigue that comes just from our work.

What’s the difference?

It’s important to know the difference between your tiredness (at the end of a shift/day) and the development of fatigue over time – they feel very different physically, mentally and emotionally.

Tiredness: strain and wear we feel at the end of the day, which can be remedied by rest, sleep and relaxation

Fatigue: extreme tiredness that builds up over time, but which can be relieved with lengthy breaks or time out.

Burnout: extreme and progressive fatigue that is not remedied by sleep, breaks or time out. Burnout is marked by fatigue that is physical, emotional, mental and psychological, as well as extreme indifference or detachment.

Others will often notice your symptoms more than you do.

Taking care throughout your day

  • Don’t wait until the end of your workday to take care of yourself.
  • Attend to your needs regularly throughout the day – at morning tea, lunchtime, the afternoon and in the transition-time between work and home. This supports your stamina and is a preventative measure against fatigue.
  • Carry your water bottle with you where you can
  • Plan and pack good food to take to work in advance
  • Take your breaks.
  • Set reminders.
  • Ask people to join you in a tea break or a walk outside.
  • Try not to eat at your desk/computer/workstation.
  • As you finish your workday, and as part of your transition home, assess how you went on taking care of yourself during the day.
  • Pat yourself on the back for what you did well.
  • Encourage yourself on what you could improve tomorrow.

Work–home transition

In the transition time between work and home, it’s important to do something that supports you moving freely from one part of your life to the other. I try to ride my bike or walk at the end of my day, even if it’s night. A nurse colleague tells me she showers off her work-shift the minute she gets in the door. For many people the journey home, while listening to the radio, a podcast or music, provides the time needed to shift from one role to another.

The ‘going home’ checklist is popular across many health services in Australia. It’s based around caring, listening and improving work-life balance by encouraging reflection and mindfulness at the end of each working day.

The ‘going home’ checklist:

  • Take a moment to think about your day.
  • Consider three things that went well today.
  • Acknowledge one thing that was difficult during your workday – now, let it go.
  • Check on your colleagues before you leave – are they ok?
  • Are you ok?
  • Choose an action to take right now, as you leave, that will signal the end of your workday.
  • Now switch your attention to home – how will you rest and recharge?

Using rituals and routines

As healthcare workers our working days are full of routines, and we understand how important they are in the workplace. Routines that support good self-care support our wellbeing. Daily routines can also become rituals that help strengthen and deepen the level of intention you make to your self-care.

Over the last 12 months, as a self-care strategy with the intention of improving my sleep, I have practised a nightly ‘getting ready for sleep’ ritual. This ritual takes about 10 minutes and involves setting up my sleep space to support a good night’s sleep. It calms and slows me down further from the evening activities and gives my body and mind the message that it is time for sleep.

Tips for getting good sleep

It cannot be overstated how important it is to get good sleep. Here are some tips for developing healthy habits for a good night’s sleep:

  • Try to wake up at the same time every morning, as this establishes healthy circadian rhythm.
  • Do not sleep late in the mornings trying to make up for lost sleep.
  • Do not nap during the day, as this can make it harder for you to fall asleep at night.
  • Avoid caffeine in the evenings, and preferably also in the afternoons.
  • Get out of bed if you can’t sleep and are unable to stop thinking about things.
  • Do something distracting and relaxing.
  • Learn to associate bed with sleep.
  • Make time for problem solving during the day.
  • Take regular exercise during the day or early in the evening (but not too late in the evening).
  • Develop a short and relaxing evening routine to help you to wind down and get in the ‘mood’ for sleep.
  • If you smoke, abstain for at least an hour before going to bed so that the stimulating effects of nicotine can wear off.
  • Limit alcohol consumption to within health guidelines and do not use alcohol to help you sleep.
  • Reduce, or limit, screen time before bed.