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Prevention of fatigue and insomnia in shift workers

Excessive fatigue and insomnia are common among shift workers. Shift work has been shown to lead to physical and psychological disorders due to the desynchronisation of the biological clock. Reduced work performance, processing errors, accidents at work, absenteeism, reduced quality of life, and symptoms of depression are negative outcomes that have been linked with shift work.

Fatigue and insomnia resulting from disturbed sleep- wake cycles occurs frequently in shift workers and may manifest into what is known as “shift work disorder”. Shift Work Disorder is associated with symptoms of insomnia or excessive sleepiness. The condition is usually temporary and is associated with a work period that occurs during the normal habitual sleep phase. The consequences of shift work disorder can have a negative effect on physical and mental health, quality of life, productivity, and performance.

Richter et al. (2016) indicates estimations on the prevalence of shift work disorder in shift workers varies between 5% and about 20%; about one in three shift workers is affected by insomnia and up to 90% of shift workers report regular fatigue and sleepiness at the workplace.
Many authors have researched the risks that result from shift work, long working hours, and a short sleep duration and they found that shift work increases the risk for attention deficits and accidents at work.

Richter et al. (2016) identified that the most common non-pharmacological recommendations to improve sleep quality and to reduce insomnia and fatigue were scheduling, bright light exposure, napping, psychoeducation for sleep hygiene, and cognitive-behavioural measures. General recommendations for coping strategies that have been tested and are easy to apply in daily practice to prevent fatigue and insomnia include scheduled napping, exposure to light at work, and special nutrition guidelines.

Workers who suffer from fatigue and insomnia often have no choice but to work when tired. Education on the hazards and causes of fatigue should be promoted. Each company that employs shift workers should consider providing knowledge and support and implement coping strategies against fatigue and insomnia. Workplace health promotion should assist in identifying health-related risk factors and support the development of coping strategies that can help to protect mental and physical health.

Workplace Physiotherapy present provide training programs to organisations to assist identification of risks associated with shift work and development of strategies to assist with mitigation of the risks.


Ref: Kneginja Richter, Jens Acker, Sophia Adam and Guenter Niklewski. Prevention of fatigue and insomnia in shift workers—a review of non-pharmacological Measures. The EPMA Journal (2016) 7:16


The comments above are the implicit advice of Workplace Physiotherapy. The views expressed are based on current evidence-based research and accepted best practice approaches. Unless otherwise stated, these comments are not the view of SIRA NSW or any other professional body. No reproduction or forwarding of this advice is permitted without the consent of the author.