Fatigue's Impact on Farmers' Health

Fatigue Has Serious Negative Effects on Physical, Mental Health

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
Connect with Russ:
Long workdays can lead to fatigue for workers. Farmers, considering they operate machinery and handle livestock for many hours, are reminded to get enough sleep to avoid fatigue problems. (DTN file photo by Elaine Shein)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Farming is one of the most dangerous occupations in the country and fatigue can make a hazardous situation even worse.

Farmers can limit fatigue issues by making sure they get enough sleep, eat a well-balanced diet, and are in good physical shape.


According to the Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center (UMASH), fatigue and sleepiness are not the same. (https://umash.umn.edu/…). Fatigue can impair regular functions as you are worn out, exhausted, but you may not be sleepy. With agricultural seasonality, farmers experience high stress tasks, long work periods, disruption of circadian rhythm, and sleep debt, which are all key contributors of fatigue, UMASH reported. (See more on circadian rhythm at https://www.cdc.gov/….)

Symptoms of fatigue include grogginess, body aches, confusion, decreased productivity, and irritability. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sleep deficiency is now identified as a public health problem.

Farmers are at increased risk from the effects of fatigue because they work with machinery and livestock regularly. This job requires them to be alert all the time.

"It is important to be aware of the consequences fatigue can have, and what you can do to promote safety and health on your farm," UMASH stated.


Sleep deprivation can lead to a vast array of emotions, according to an AgriSafe Network report about sleep. (https://www.agrisafe.org/…).

These emotions can run from irritable to antsy, to giddy, to a state of negativity, according to the report. Negative feelings of worthlessness, sadness, depression and questioning one's value can be part of it.

Fatigued adults are more apt to be self-absorbed in their problems, which can lead to faulty decision making and possibly more risk-taking behaviors. Fatigue affects the brain's functions in ways similar to alcohol consumption, the report explained.

The brain acquires and absorbs new information during waking hours. Sleep allows the brain to save the stored information and free up space for new information storage.

Proper muscle function requires a rested brain. Stamina, muscle strength and balance are all improved by sleep.

The report stated average healthy adults require eight to eight and a half hours of sleep a night. Overall, having good sleep practices and a healthy lifestyle promotes the best work performance.

UMASH created a Fatigue Safety Checklist:

-- Are you prioritizing rest, recovery, and sleep? Staying well-rested is essential for safe work performance.

-- Are you aware of the symptoms of fatigue? These can include drowsiness, apathy, dizziness, headaches, vision impairments, poor concentration, slow reflexes and changes in mood.

-- Are you managing stress? Strategies include taking a regular short walk, talking with a friend, or practicing mindfulness. High stress levels can contribute to fatigue.

-- Have you maintained a balanced diet with adequate hydration?

-- Are you heavily reliant on caffeine? This could indicate fatigue.

-- Have you had a recent physical exam? Fatigue can be a symptom of or caused by multiple medical conditions (depression, anemia, medication side effects, etc.)

-- Does your safety plan for employees address fatigue management? This could include work hour maximums, rest minimums, and working in pairs.

-- Have you established reliable and regular communication on the farm? Both fatigue and working alone can be risky for farmers.

Additional fatigue resources include:

Stress and Mental Health

Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center (UMASH)



Fatigue at Work Can be Deadly

National Safety Council



Fatigue Management in the Workplace

Industrial Psychiatry Journal




Medline Plus



Sleep Deprivation: Causes and Consequences

National Ag Safety Database


Russ Quinn can be reached at Russ.Quinn@dtn.com

Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, @RussQuinnDTN

Russ Quinn