At Newcastle Hospitals, we are currently doing lots of work around how we can reduce the risks associated with tiredness, particularly during night shifts.
Fatigue can have a huge impact on the health and wellbeing of all our staff, both physically and mentally, and shouldn’t be accepted as simply being part of working in the health service.
We have a responsibility – and duty – to look after ourselves to help you provide the best, and safest, care for our patients.
Why we sleep
We all talk about ‘going to sleep’ without really thinking much about what it means.
It may seem like a waste of time in our 24/7 world but sleep is not a luxury – it is a biological necessity. All animals have a sleep-wake cycle, from tiny fruit flies to humans.
In humans, sleep is vital for good physical and mental health. We need to sleep for normal mood, memory and metabolism. Sleep is also needed for growth, for the immune system and to maintain the right body temperature.
Bad sleep for any reason affects brain function. If you sleep badly you feel grumpy and irritable, a little more impulsive and attention and concentration is worse. It is also harder to learn new things – memory processing and new learning happens during sleep.
So, a good night’s sleep is vital for the body and brain to work at their best during the day.
We don’t really remember much about the night when we sleep well but we now know that distinct areas within the brain control a complex and very active process that changes over the night.
If we think of the brain as different electrical circuits then two separate circuits control how long we sleep (the hours) and when we sleep (the body clock – we are designed to sleep best at night when it is dark).
We need more sleep when young and when we are ill but a little less as we get older. Body clocks do change – with teenagers happy as night owls but most of us falling asleep earlier as we get older.
In the Trust’s sleep clinic, we can record sleep and look at brain activity (the EEG) and see that there are two main stages of sleep – dream sleep (also called REM sleep) and non-dream sleep (NREM).
We cycle between the different stages about every 90 minutes as adults. We all wake at night although we may not remember this and we all dream a little more in the second half of the nigh
Find out more about the science of sleep
with these great TED talks
Why do we sleep? – Russell Foster
“Sleep is your superpower”
– Matthew Walker
Getting the best out of your shifts
Many of us work shifts. We need to! Hospitals aren’t only open from 9am to 5pm – we’re a 24/7 service and our patients need care both day and night.
That’s why it is really important to make sure you – and your patients – are getting the best night’s sleep that you can. A rested health professional is a better health professional!
Sleep is flexible, when normal sleepers are studied, they sleep different amounts of time on different nights of the week. But it is worth adding up the total number of hours in an average week…
Is it 40, 45 or 50? For most adults – sleeping under six hours a night on a regular basis will make them feel tired – how do you feel when you wake up in the morning?
If you wake up feeling fine and refreshed – then you are probably getting things right and having enough sleep. Different people need different amounts of sleep. Shift work does make us sleep at the wrong times for our body clock and can cause us to get too few hours in bed.
One phrase sleep researchers have used recently is ‘social jet lag’ – the idea of sleeping a lot longer on your free days compared to your work days.
This can be a sign that you are running a little short of sleep on your work nights. Making sure there is enough of a gap between one shift and the next is important, at least 11 hours if at all possible.
This might mean you don’t arrange too many things to do on your days off so that you do get a chance to catch up and you plan ahead for your shifts to protect your sleep as much as possible.
There are some useful tips for shift work in the links below if you need more information and ideas.
There are also some really good tips to fight fatigue during the shift from the Association of Anaesthetists – you may have seen their leaflets around the hospital?