Combating farm fatigue

Tips on how to sleep better, feel better and work safer

Farmers probably don’t need a seminar to tell them they don’t sleep enough. Caffeine-induced heart palpitations probably do that for them as spring field work grinds on.

However, as a June 9 seminar from Keystone Agricultural Producers reminded, that sleep deprivation is more than an annoyance.

“Fatigue is a hazard just like your chemicals on the farm,” said Lori Brookhouse, an adviser with Farm Safety Nova Scotia. She presented two seminars on fatigue management, titled “Cultivating your way to burnout?”

It impairs judgment and concentration, and may reduce the quality of work because “you’re just too tired” to focus.

Fatigue slows the analytical, evaluative portion of the brain. It can set the stage for negative thinking and emotional vulnerability, and can wreak havoc on the brain.

Farmers might be some of the most tired workers out there, said Brookhouse, with roughly two-thirds sleep deprived. That puts them up there with doctors and lawyers, she added.

Women farmers are even more likely to be fatigued said Brookhouse. This may be due to a female tendency to feel responsible for almost everything in their lives — household, chores, children, checking in to make sure everyone is OK.

With those things in mind, Brookhouse provided several tips on how to combat fatigue and get better sleep.

Eat better

Brookhouse told the story of a friend who works long hours and lives alone. The friend is often tired and didn’t understand why.

“And then I ask her what she’s had for dinner,” said Brookhouse. The answer: gummy bears and root beer.

“She was having a hard time trying to connect that this gummy bears and root beer dinner were not at all helping with her fatigue issues and her ability to concentrate,” Brookhouse said.

Having veggies, fruit and protein at lunchtime may help revive you, she said.

Reduce caffeine, nicotine, alcohol

If having trouble sleeping, Brookhouse suggested cutting out caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. If that’s not possible, avoid them an hour or two before bed.

Caffeine and nicotine speed up the heart rate, and may also speed up thinking.

“If you’re one of those people who aren’t sleeping at night because you’re going through everything that happened during the day and everything you want to happen the next day, this is going to inhibit that ability to sleep,” she said.

Alcohol interferes with sleep patterns, and may cause sleep disruptions.

Get exercise

Exercise can counteract the effects of fatigue. Moderate aerobic exercise is best at this, said Brookhouse. It tends to be just movement and can allow the mind to relax and regroup.

Farmers may be able to get this in during work — like during field scouting, she added. Particularly if they walk at a quick pace or add more walking to the task.

Use good sleep hygiene

Maintain a good sleep and waking schedule if possible, said Brookhouse. If that’s not possible, keep the bedroom dark and free of distractions like electronics.

Use the bedroom only for sleeping, she added. Some farmers use the bedroom as an office. “Some will even — whom I’ve spoken to — will get up in the middle of the night just to add another accounting note in, or to add a note for something to do the next day because it’s just over there, it’s just on the other side of the room.”

In the spring, farmers are likely to develop a sleep deficit said Brookhouse. To combat this, perhaps take a nap at lunch (even if it’s just 15 minutes) or sleep in when it’s possible (e.g. on Sunday).

Try relaxation techniques

Deep breathing exercises might aid relaxation, said Brookhouse. She suggested trying Calm in the Storm, a free resource from Klinic Community Health Centre.

Meditation isn’t everyone’s thing, said Brookhouse. For her, swimming is her meditation she said.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), is a counselling tool that “helps you become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking so you can view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them in a more effective way,” according to the Mayo Clinic.

This can help shift negative thinking patterns, said Brookhouse.

“We want to have a positive work culture, and that starts with us. If we don’t have the right amount of sleep, it is hard for us to help build our team and protrude or exude a nice positive culture on everyone else,” she said.

“We have less tendency when we are well rested to push our issues or things we’re thinking about or things we think are going wrong onto other people. We have a tendency to be able to problem solve a bit better.”

About the author

Reporter

Geralyn Wichers

Geralyn Wichers grew up on a hobby farm near Anola, Manitoba, where her family raised cattle, pigs and chickens. Geralyn graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in 2019 and was previously a reporter for The Carillon in Steinbach. Geralyn is also a published author of science fiction and fantasy novels.

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