Farmers are being urged to take care of themselves and ensure they get enough sleep ahead of the busy spring calving and lambing season.

Recently published research from Dublin City University (DCU) found that 24% of 351 farmers surveyed reported burnout, while one in every two farmers reported widespread sleep issues.

The farmers who admitted being burnt out were found to have particularly severe sleep issues and those who suffered burnout also had worse mental and physical health than other farmers.

Older farmers and those with children were especially at risk of burnout, the DCU scientists found.

Poor sleep

Lead author Dr Siobhan O'Connor told the Irish Farmers Journal that her team was very concerned about the high prevalence of burnout and poor sleep among the 351 farmers, even though they knew before they embarked on the study that farmers were more likely than other occupations to suffer those issues because farming is demanding, solitary and unpredictable occupation.

The impact of sleep and burnout issues on farmers is their main concern, Dr O’Connor said.

“Being burnt out and having poor sleep can lead to farmers finding it hard to concentrate and making quick decisions and poor judgements on the farm which could potentially lead to accidents,” she explained.


“It can also negatively impact productivity and quality of life and lead to feelings of being overwhelmed, disengaged and de-motivated both in their job as a farmer but also their family life, which can potentially impact relationships with their family.

“The lack of time they feel they have can also lead to them not taking breaks or holidays, eating poorly, stopping taking part in social activities that they enjoy and not exercising, etc.

"In fact, in our study we found that poor sleepers and burnout farmers displayed higher mental health and physical health issues, which has been shown internationally too.”

Large-scale changes that address financial, psychological and social supports are needed to truly tackle burnout, Dr O’Connor said, adding that the Irish research had highlighted that targeted interventions were also important for the most at-risk cohorts - older farmers and those with young families.

However, farmers can make some personal changes which will help.

Lyndsay Fleming from Seaforde catching up on his sleep after a 4am start, in preparation for the Winter Fair. Taking breaks is recommended and essential.

“We would recommend that farmers firstly take stock of their own wellbeing and check in with how they are feeling and sleeping. For any farmer who feels they may be burned out or experiencing poor sleep, we would firstly advise them to use problem-based coping strategies.

"For example, sitting down and identifying your key priorities and what you need to focus on addressing tomorrow, this week and maybe what can be done over the next few weeks can be helpful for those feeling overwhelmed,” the DCU associate professor advised.

Fuel and priorities

“Something to prioritise in general, but especially if you are feeling overwhelmed and stressed, is to make sure to fuel yourself daily.

"Prioritise your own health as best you can - lots of times when we are feeling stressed, we reach for quick meals that maybe aren’t as nutritious or caffeine drinks and let our own health slide.

“So try [to] make sure you have three meals a day plus snacks, limit your alcohol intake and take part in exercise that you enjoy. We recommend taking part in at least 30 minutes of exercise five days a week if you can.”

Sleep hygiene

"No, sleep hygiene isn’t about taking off your dirty overalls before getting into bed!

"Sleep hygiene is about avoiding screens of all kinds, phone, computer and TV, before bed. Sleeping in a quiet, dark room at a comfortable temperature and avoiding large meals, caffeine and alcohol before bed are also good sleep hygiene tips."

Take a break

Dr O’Connor insists that breaks are very important, even when you are really busy with work.

“I know this can be really difficult during times like lambing or calving, but that break can really help enhance your productivity, even if it is just going to watch a local GAA match, playing a game of soccer with your children for a half hour or calling over to an old friend for a catch up that you haven’t seen in a while,” she urges.

For any farmers who may be struggling, she recommends the first point of contact is your local GP.

Read the full scientific paper on Irish farmers’ experience of sleep deprivation here.