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What’s the difference between sleepiness and fatigue?


The expression “I am tired” is often used to indicate both sleepiness and fatigue. Although the two are closely related and interact with each other, sleepiness and fatigue are two separate behaviors.

Sleepiness is the result of not getting enough sleep – just like hunger is caused by not eating enough food. On the other hand, fatigue is not just feeling physically sleepy; it also includes psychological, social and cognitive impairment.

Some examples of fatigue include:

Physical:
•    Reduced motor coordination
•    Slower reaction times.
•    Decreased energy

Psychological/Social:
•    Less connected with the environment around you
•    Less motivated
•    More apathetic towards the people around you.
•    More easily frustrated

Cognitive:
•    Cannot think as clearly or as quickly.
•    Reduced problem solving ability
•    More difficult to communicate and/or process communications and information.
•    Reduced judgment/more risk taking

Due to the reduced or impaired alertness caused by fatigue, the inevitable net result is increased human error and reduced ability to work safely and productively. Numerous scientific studies and extensive field experience confirm that people who work the night shift or rotating shifts have higher levels of fatigue and are more likely to experience sleepiness, nodding-off, and making mistakes while working, as well as nodding-off or fighting sleep while commuting to and from work. Therefore it’s always important for shiftworkers to assess their fatigue levels before performing a safety sensitive task.

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