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Sleepiness in the Workplace

woman sleeping at work

Fatigue, tiredness, sleepiness and drowsiness have become interchangeable terms which all point to a serious problem in the workplace – high risk of injury, lost productivity and impact on the bottom line.  Fatigue, but more specifically ‘drowsiness’ which is the dangerous state before sleep, combined with a hectic work schedule can wreak havoc on our health and safety.

Shift workers are most likely to suffer injuries and illnesses caused by drowsiness, as they are the type of workers who tend to work against their natural body clock. Generally, shift workers have to fight against their circadian rhythm in order to stay awake during the night – when they are programmed to sleep – and sleep during the day, when they are programmed to be awake.

A great amount of shift work involves long-distance driving, so those who drive during the times their bodies are programmed to be sleeping – between midnight and 6am – are six times more likely to be involved in a car or truck accident than other workers.

Basic company ‘fatigue management’ means employers or managers know the risks to identify and how these risks can be appropriately addressed. Managing fatigue and the dangerous state of drowsiness in the workplace can help to lower the chance of an injury or accident.

Common Causes of Drowsiness

It’s common for people to misdiagnose feeling overtired or overworked with fatigue or drowsiness, mostly because the desire to sleep is associated. Chronic drowsiness though, can be a long-term debilitating condition, normally traced back to a lifestyle habit. The most common determinants of fatigue include:

  • Night work and shift work
  • Jet lag
  • Sleeping disorders like sleep apnea, narcolepsy and insomnia
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Poor eating habits
  • Stress
  • Lack of sleep
  • Certain medications
  • Depression

Drowsiness and Fatigue Prevention

Shift workers and long distance truck drivers are some of the groups that are most susceptible to fatigue-related conditions and injuries due to the irregular nature of their work. In fact, shift workers increase their risk by almost six times of having an accident caused by drowsiness.

Extended hours of work, shift work, or second jobs are all very real factors that can contribute to employee drowsiness. Employers should always be aware of any overtime work and impose limits on the number of hours employees can work in a given day or week.

The first step towards prevention is accurate fatigue management. This is when employers should conduct assessments of their staff to identify possible instances or causes related to drowsiness.

A Risk Assessment

A risk assessment will identify which workers are likely to experience drowsiness (Night shift workers, truck drivers, and those who work long hours.)

Their hours of work (How many hours are they working per week? How many hours do they have for rest between shifts?)  The time of day they are working (Are they working nights? How many night shifts are they working per week?)

What actions can be taken (Could you implement weekly rotating schedules?)

Managers and employers should be trained in identifying risks and implementing appropriate actions to ensure health and safety of all employees.

Lifestyle Treatments for Extreme Sleepiness

Treatment for excessive sleepiness will depend on the cause. However, there are some easy lifestyle changes you can do right now to try and improve your symptoms. These include

  • Limit caffeine intake post-afternoon
  • Make a habit of going to bed at the same time
  • Sleep hygiene – clean bed, clean room, relaxing environment
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Exercise


Getting a professional diagnosis for what is causing extreme sleepiness at work is needed in order to get a treatment plan that will be most effective. Columbus Sleep Consultants can run a number of tests to accuractely diagnose you and create a comprehensive treatment plan. Depending on the cause(s) this may include a combination of medication and a change in lifestyle habits. Call us today if you have been experiencing extreme sleepiness at work.

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