Sleep Health | Sleep Review
Fly-in-fly-out shift workers lose valuable sleep due to the design of duty rosters, individual lifestyle and the risk of a possible prevalence of sleep disorders.
Edith Cowan University (ECU) monitored the sleeping habits of 75 fly-in-fly-out shift workers in Australia.
Study participants wore a validated sleep and activity tracking device for three weeks over a “two-and-one” work rotation that consisted of seven day shifts, followed by seven night shifts and a week off.
Participants also answered questions about their sleep and lifestyle.
The study found that day shifts that start before 6 a.m. and require a 4 a.m. wake up time reduce sleep opportunities and result in significant sleep loss before the shift.
Sleep duration was 77 minutes shorter after each night shift and 30 minutes shorter after day shifts, resulting in an accumulated sleep debt before returning home for a seven day rest period.
Research lead Ian Dunican, PhD says such sleep loss can result in poor alertness and fatigue during a shift, or when the number of shifts accumulates over the roster cycle of 14 consecutive shifts.
“The nature of the roster means that people typically work in shifts of more than 12 hours, plus travel, time to eat, exercise, and downtime,” he said in a press release. “When all of these activities are combined, there is little opportunity to get eight hours of sleep; the reality is that many workers get less than seven hours of sleep a night. “
The study also found that up to 60% of participants were at risk for sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea and shift work disorders, which without treatment can further contribute to sleep loss.
The study, published in Applied Ergonomics, assesses the risk of a possible prevalence of sleep disorders among Australian miners.
It also highlights other worrying factors of unhealthy lifestyle, such as high levels of obesity (23%) and dangerous alcohol consumption (36%).
The roster design combined with undiagnosed sleep disorders, dangerous alcohol use, and obesity can all contribute to poor sleep patterns.
“Limited downtime and difficulty falling asleep can also affect alcohol consumption,” says Dunican. “People may use alcohol to help them fall asleep, but it actually has a detrimental impact on their sleep quality and overall health.”
Shift work is common in the mining industry as mining companies must operate their operations 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
However, Dunican says it is worrying to find such a high percentage of fly-in-fly-out workers experiencing acute sleep loss and decreased vigilance during a shift.
“This creates a largely avoidable health and safety risk,” he says, recommending that companies reconsider their rosters while ensuring that workers are adequately rested.
“Even small changes to the start and end times of the shift can significantly reduce the risk, improve sleep opportunities without affecting production.”
He says that training on good sleep health practices and lifestyle, as well as screening and treatment programs for sleep disorders, should be provided to support the sleep health of shift workers.
“It’s imperative that we find ways to improve the way we operate shifts and rosters, and ensure that employees are supported in getting good sleep and having access to help when they need it,” he says.
Dunican says the study’s findings have implications for shift workers in other industries such as healthcare, manufacturing, travel, and logistics.
The researcher is currently investigating the effectiveness of a sleep education program and biological feedback via a smartphone application for fly-in fly-out miners to improve sleep and reduce risk.
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