Getting enough sleep is important for our physical and mental health. When we are asleep our senses and motor activities are suspended and we experience total or partial unconsciousness with our voluntary muscles becoming inactive.
We all need a good night’s sleep and offshore workers particularly need to be well rested ready for their demanding tasks. Offshore work is often very physical and the harsh North environment can sap energy levels. Working 12 hours a day for two weeks, as well as the stresses and strains of travelling from home to an offshore work location requires plenty of stamina.
We all know how drained we can feel in the morning after a late or restless night. Regular sleep deprivation can become a real problem and affect performance and well-being.
Difficulty in getting to or staying asleep can lead to ongoing tiredness and have an adverse impact in various ways like safety, productivity, long-term health as well as social life.
If you are having sleeping problems what can you do to help alleviate the situation?
If you’re taking too long to get to sleep or waking up during the night, the first thing to consider is checking your sleep hygiene. That doesn’t mean having a good wash before sleep or having a clean bed.
Sleep hygiene is used to describe the various different ways that are necessary to have quality sleep and wake up energised and alert. Sleep disorders can be improved by revising bad bedtime habits and adopting good sleep hygiene.
Tips for improving sleep hygiene
o We all have individual sleep needs according to our age and lifestyle but the average is about 7-8 hours-plus a night. Try to establish routines so you gradually build up good sleep habits. Going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time will help.
o Avoid caffeine, nicotine or alcohol before you go to bed. In contrast, a warm milky drink can have a relaxing effect.
o It’s not a good idea to eat a heavy meal too soon before going to bed and spicy food or chocolate don’t bode well for a good night’s sleep.
o Physical exercise help promote health but it’s best to restrict vigorous exercise to the morning or late afternoon. However, you could try a relaxing exercise such as yoga in the evening as an aid to initiating sleep. Relaxation techniques can also help; ask your offshore medic for exercises to try.
o Allow yourself “winding down” time before you go to bed – a warm bath can be a fine way to soothe away stresses and strains.
o Stress and worry impede sleep so what can you do if you are in bed and your mind is racing? You could try and set aside some time before you go to bed and mentally go through what the following day holds for you. If there is something worrying you, use that time to consider options and then try to leave it be when you get into bed. It might even help if you write down a list of the next day’s tasks, seeing if you can prioritise them in advance or find a solution to an ongoing problem.
o Try and think of your bed as somewhere comfortable where you go to for sleep rather than as an entertainment centre. It’s best to avoid watching TV or playing computer games while in bed.
o If you are sharing sleeping accommodation, then an eye mask and/or ear plugs could help. There’s nothing like listening to someone else’s snoring to cause irritation and sleeplessness.
o If you’ve been lying in bed for more than 30 minutes but sleep hasn’t come, don’t worry. You could get out of bed and do something else like reading or listening to some music for a brief while and then get back into bed and have another go at sleeping.
If you’ve tried all of these suggestions but are finding insomnia is an ongoing difficulty, then maybe you have to consider that your sleep problems could be a symptom of other difficulties such as occupational stress or family problems.
You might want to look at your lifestyle and see if there are positive changes you could make. It could be something as simple as talking through problems with family or friends that you trust.
If insomnia is becoming a really serious issue then perhaps you could get advice on- or offshore. Don’t let lack of sleep prevail or you could end up feeling irritable and fatigued when you should be alert, energised and ready for anything.
Shakespeare’s Macbeth is so right when he declares: “Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleave of care; the death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath; balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course. Chief nourisher in life’s feast.”
Cheryl Carroll is occupational health and medical governance manager – medical services at Abermed