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Professor Drew Dawson, who has extensively researched fatigue and sleep for the past 30 years, is direct with his advice for those managing shift work.

“Get as much sleep as you can,” suggests the Director of Central Queensland University’s Appleton Institute.

In order to do this he suggests sleeping in a room that is cool, dark and quiet provides the best sleeping environment.

But while the advice seems straight forward, Professor Dawson acknowledges the difficulty nurses and midwives may have in managing sleep around shift work.
Professor Dawson said one of the worst combinations of shift work and managing sleep is the late/early shifts and believes they should be avoided if possible to minimise fatigue.

He argues that working fatigued could carry significant consequences.
“Workplace health and safety rules changed a couple of years ago… if you come to work and haven’t had enough sleep, and there’s an accident, you as an employee could be liable.”

So how do you maximise quality sleep and reduce fatigue when working shifts?

Professor Dawson says his top tips are:

  • Minimise disruptions: “You don’t have to iron the pillow slips or underpants, it’s better to sleep… Prioritise sleep over other people’s expectations of you.”
  • Ensure you’re active: “Try to be physically active at night on shift… Try not to sit down all night.”
  • Eat healthy: “Don’t eat cake and chocolate… Minimise carbohydrate and sugars, maximise protein… and good food.”
  • Don’t be afraid to sleep through the day: “Even if you wake up at lunch time, you can go back to sleep.”
  • Ensure your partner is doing their share of the domestic load.
  • Drink plenty of water, and no nightcaps: “Try not to drink caffeine or alcohol prior to going to sleep… Although alcohol will help you get to sleep quicker it will wake you up quicker too.”
  • Don’t smoke.