Even though we’re gaining an hour of sleep, coming out of Daylight Saving Time can have an affect on our natural sleep cycles.
At the outset of COVID-19 in early March, there was overwhelming support for our health care workers. As we enter flu season and COVID-19 infections in Indiana continue to rise, there is a heightened need for 24-hour care availability for patients.
While frontline and essential workers in all industries face risks as they work to keep the country running in the face of a global pandemic, shift-work fatigue is an invisible risk they face.
Pandemic fatigue: It may cause need for help from mental health professionals
Nursing homes: Holcomb to send in National Guard to help facilities care for residents
Fatigue is a public health problem on a local and global scale. Humans are the only species that pretend to be nocturnal, but willpower cannot overcome biology.
There are many risks involved with fighting the need for sleep, including impaired reaction time, judgment and vision, problems with information processing and short-term memory, decreased performance, vigilance and motivation and increased moodiness and aggressive behaviors.
Nationwide, 16% of wage and salary employees follow shift-work schedules outside of the hours of 7 a.m. and 6 p.m., including 10% who work evening shifts or night shifts. More than 43% of workers are sleep-deprived, and those most at risk work the night shift, long shifts or irregular shifts.
Furthermore, fatigue is estimated to cost employers $136 billion a year in health-related productivity. While there is no perfect solution for night-shift work, meaningful steps can be taken to improve the impacts related to shift-worker sleep and fatigue.
In general, employees receive little education on the importance of sleep and sleep disorders and the consequences of fatigue. And while night-shift work is necessary in many industries, there is a growing body of evidence that its negative impacts can be mitigated through onboarding education, science-based scheduling and rostering, and increased recognition of the added burden shift work places on employees.
Employers are in a unique position to educate employees on how to avoid fatigue-related safety incidents. These strategies can help this nocturnal workforce mitigate their inherent risk, improve their quality of life and increase productivity in the workplace.
The pandemic has layered an additional burden on shift workers with the loss of child care, remote learning for their children (most of which is scheduled during the daytime hours), and the loss of an already limited social life.
Health care workers have to care for themselves first
Working in hospitals and health care facilities creates an increased chance that friends and colleagues become sick and must isolate themselves, which also creates additional emotional challenges for an already stressful line of work.
If one good thing has come of COVID-19, it’s that the pandemic has made employers think more carefully about mental health resources for their employees and learn to be more accepting of the mental-health burden that goes alongside night-shift work.
While fatigue impacts workers across sectors, it’s particularly important for health care workers who cannot properly care for patients if their own needs aren’t met first.
Their self-care must be prioritized and supported by family, friends, neighbors and peers. I encourage anyone who knows someone in the health care industry to remind them to take time for themselves and even lend a helping hand.
One small but mighty way to honor the important and often unrecognized contributions of night-shift nurses and shift workers is to thank those who had to work an extra hour during their normal shift due to the daylight-saving time change on Nov. 1.
This is one reason why Western Governors University Indiana launched its Night Shift Nurses campaign, which will deliver 1,900 appreciation kits to night shift workers at health care facilities statewide this year.
We must remain aware of the sacrifices of those on the front lines and learn how we can best help them care for themselves so they can care for the most vulnerable.
At this critical time, I am urging employers and communities to prioritize health care workers’ sleep health through education, resources and self-care.
Mary Carney is the Indiana state director of nursing in Western Governors University.
Read or Share this story: https://www.indystar.com/story/opinion/2020/11/05/op-ed-health-care-workers-literally-lose-sleep-over-pandemic/6004717002/