Shiftwork a hot topic at this year’s Professional Issues Conference

Working night shift can leave you feeling like you’ve just come in from a long flight from London, with the same effect as jetlag, according to one of the sleep experts due to present at this year’s Professional Issues Conference.

Dr Delwyn Bartlett from the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research will discuss the effect that shiftwork has on the body at this year’s conference, and offer advice on the best ways to avoid the pitfalls of sleep deprivation.

The effect of shiftwork on sleep is just one of the hot topics at this year’s conference, which is a one-day symposium to discuss many of the professional issues that nurses face in their work. With a constant stream of research showing the adverse health effects of shiftwork, it’s become a very important issue for many nurses. ‘Shiftworkers are chronically sleep-deprived,’ says Dr Bartlett.

‘Rotating shifts are the worst of all.’ Dr Bartlett runs insomnia workshops at RPAH, and uses different techniques to minimise the negative impact of working late. The biggest problem for most workers is that they simply don’t get enough sleep because of family routines or they find it hard to sleep during the day. ‘On average shift workers lose one hour of sleep per night or day. Some shiftworkers get five or six hours if they’re lucky,’ Dr Bartlett says.

This year’s conference will focus on practical ways that nurses can make changes to their lives and workplaces. Other topics include the changes in enrolled nursing, dealing with high workloads, suicide prevention in the bush, the industrial relations system and nurses’ mental health. Most of the speakers are nurses themselves who have dealt with these issues in their own workplaces and found practical ways to deal with them. The conference is packed with plenty of practical information, discussion and networking opportunities.

And if you’ve got to work the late shift before then, Dr Bartlett has some advice for you: ‘Exposure to lights and dark has an effect. If you’re working night shift, when you get up in the afternoon get some afternoon light, and get light when you fist get to work. It keeps you alert and delays sleep onset. Then at the end of your shift you want to minimise your light exposure so you can go home and get to bed.’ She also recommends a good diet and regular exercise – even if you feel fatigued – to help you get a better day’s sleep.