Feeling Tired?

We’ve collected advice from doctors, scientists, and other shift workers on how to manage and avoid fatigue. By following these small steps you can make sure that you are as rested as you can be, and fit for duty.

Sleep well

Get enough, good quality sleep.  Most people need about 8 hours' sleep in every 24 hours, and getting less than 5 or 6 hours can cause safety problems.

How to improve your chances of getting a good sleep:

Avoid daylight and bright light before bed.  Light can make you alert. Avoid looking at devices with backlit screens, such as touchscreen phones and tablet devices. Use blackout curtains or blinds or a sleeping mask to block out light when you are sleeping.

Plan your food and drink. Do not eat a large meal, fatty or spicy foods, just before you sleep.  But do eat enough so that your sleep is not disturbed by hunger.

Avoid caffeinated drinks (coffee, tea, cola, energy drinks). Have your last caffeinated drink at least 6 hours before you go to bed.  Don’t get dehydrated: drink water.

Do not smoke, vape or use alcohol to help you sleep.  Alcohol and nicotine disturb the normal sleep pattern and will make you more tired in the long run.

An easy stroll before bedtime can help, but don't do exercise. A good exercise programme can improve your sleep but exercising close to bedtime can disturb your sleep.

Reduce your chances of being woken up by noise. Switch off phones, ask the family to help by keeping quiet, and use ear plugs if you can’t get rid of the noise.

Make sure that your sleeping conditions are as comfortable as they can be and make sure the room is cool.

Wind down. Find a bedtime routine that works for you and stick to it.  If you have a work phone, laptop or other device, avoid using them before bed.  Try to let go of work.

It may sound obvious but…. Lie down in bed and relax. You will sleep best in bed, not in a chair or on a sofa.  Take your mind off things by imagining lying outside on a sunny day, or taking a relaxing stroll somewhere you like.

Don't stress about sleep. Know your facts and do what you can to get enough sleep, but if you can’t sleep, worrying will only make it worse.  Try getting up, doing relaxation exercises or listening to calming music, and then going back to bed.

Napping before work

Taking a nap can increase your alertness, improve your mood and reduce sleepiness.  It can improve your performance and safety. Even short naps of 20 minutes are effective.  But if you are preparing for a night shift, try for an afternoon sleep of 90 minutes or more.

If you nap for more than 20 minutes or so, you may be groggy when you wake up, and feel drowsy for another 20 minutes.  Plan for this (set an alarm clock) and don’t do anything safety critical in this time, including driving a car.

Our body clock programmes us to be alert in the morning, late afternoon or early evening.  If you find it difficult to nap in at these times, try napping in the early afternoon, during the ‘post-lunch dip’.

Our advice on getting a good sleep can also help you nap.

Plan your food and drink

If you work nights, plan ahead.  Eat your main meal before you leave for work.  It can be difficult (and expensive) to find healthy food at night, so bring healthy food and snacks with you.


At work

Regular breaks

Take all breaks that are available to you.  Avoid work activities during your break.

Napping during breaks - if permitted by your company

Napping at work is not always an option.  But if it is allowed, it has bigger benefits than just taking a break, especially on night shifts.  It is better to nap before you really start to suffer from fatigue. Follow the advice on napping, and remember: if you nap for more than 20 minutes you should expect to feel groggy and plan for this.

Regular, healthy food and drink

Avoid eating high-fat, greasy or spicy foods, especially during the night.  Skip the sweet snacks.  Remember, sugars can affect digestion and leave you craving more. Try to eat in a relaxing environment where possible, and chew your food well.

Drink plenty water.  Invest in a stainless-steel water bottle. Avoid caffeine if possible, particularly late in the shift. Avoid energy drinks that are high in sugar.  These will give you a sugar rush, but then leave you feeling worse.


Spending time in daylight or bright areas can help you feel alert.  This may not be possible for everyone on a night shift, but if you can take a break in a bright room, you might find it helps.

After work

Your journey

At the end of your work, you might be suffering from fatigue and this can affect your safety on your way home. If your company has provided accommodation close to your work, remember that this is for your safety, your health and livelihood.  Always use it.  Don’t drive tired.

If you feel tired consider taking a nap or brief exercise before you drive home.

If you are a passenger, try to avoid sunlight or bright light as much as possible.  Wrap-around sunglasses may help to block out light.

When you get back

When you get back from a night shift, have a very light snack and go to bed straight away.  The sooner you get to bed the better you will sleep.

If you’re going back on a night shift, sleep as long as you can (lie in till noon), and then sleep again in the afternoon before your shift.

If you have had your last night shift, have a shorter sleep, get up, and go to bed early in the evening.

We do not recommend sleeping pills because they have hangover effects and are addictive.  Always talk to your GP before using them.

Your health

If you are suffering from health issues you may lose alertness and get tired easily. For example:

·    Sleep disorders (e.g. insomnia and sleep apnoea) can have significant impacts on sleep and fatigue.

·    Diabetes, depression, anxiety, underactive thyroid and chronic fatigue syndrome can all lead to a lack of energy.

·    Some common illnesses like cold and flu can disrupt sleep and cause fatigue too.

·    Some medications can make you drowsy.

If you are suffering from sleep problems or extreme sleepiness at work, you should contact your Occupational Health Department and your GP for advice. 


Regular exercise, and a healthy diet, can improve your overall fitness, help you reach a healthy weight, and improve your alertness. At work, taking a walk or exercising during your breaks will only help you feel alert for about 10 minutes.

If you exercise before work, eat and drink to restore your energy levels.  Too much exercise before work may leave you feeling physically exhausted.

Check with your GP or the Occupational Health Department in your company before starting a new exercise routine, especially if you have not exercised recently.

Your commute

Long journeys to and from work can cause fatigue.  Driving can make you tired before you even start work.  Even if you don’t drive, a long commute can make it more difficult to nap or sleep before work.

Long journeys will impact your safety, health and livelihood.  Think about this when choosing where to live and work.

It may be safer for you to use public transport. If you are driving, be aware of the risks. Leave plenty of time, don’t rush, drive defensively and stop if you feel sleepy.

Company-informed shift swapping

Some people are naturally more alert in the morning, and others more so in the evening. If your company allows it, you may be able to swap so that you can work shifts that you find less tiring.
Swapping shifts may not always be the right thing to do. For example:

·    If you are taking on a night shift when you are already suffering from fatigue

·    If your colleagues may not want to swap shifts.

·    If it means you lose route or traction knowledge.

It is important to work with your company to make sure you don’t work beyond set limits, and that there are no negative consequences.

You can download a copy of this guidance here (requires member login).


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