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Burning desire to help Australian firefighters recognised

Published:22 November 2019

Dr Grace Vincent has been awarded an Early Career Research Award, as part of the 2019 Vice-Chancellor's Awards for Outstanding Researchers.

Research shows that just 30 seconds of exercise upon waking can reduce sleep inertia (grogginess), and help firefighters and other on-call workers become more alert.

This is thanks to the work of CQUniversity Appleton Institute's Senior Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Dr Grace Vincent, who was recently awarded a Vice-Chancellor's Early Career Research Award.

Dr Vincent’s research involves understanding the interactions between sleep and physical activity in workplaces to optimise health and safety.

Through 38 peer-reviewed publications, supported by $1.1 million worth of internal and external grants, Dr Vincent’s research has seen her develop a reputation as an expert in the interaction between sleep, physical activity and work.

Her research has also resulted in industry-specific knowledge about how work arrangements can influence sleep and physical activity in the emergency services, health care, construction, law-enforcement, and telecommunication sectors.

“Our work directly benefits a range of safety-critical occupations because up until now, these sectors have relied on a fatigue management policy based primarily on research into the cognitive responses to shortened sleep. Over the last five years, we have extended the research to also understand the interactions between sleep and physical work,” Dr Vincent said.

“We have produced a number of industry reports on fatigue risk management and healthy sleep practices for Optus, Victoria Police, Telstra, The Royal Children’s Hospital, and Melbourne Health. These reports directly informed these organisations on how to best manage fatigue to support employee health and safety.”

Dr Vincent's findings have also been disseminated through the Australasian Fire Authorities Council, published in leading international occupational health and safety publications and have led her to receive 16 national and international accolades.

More recently, Dr Vincent was the overall winner of the National 5-Minute Research Pitch competition, which allows early and mid-career researchers from Australian Universities to showcase their research to a national audience and make their work accessible and interesting to a non-specialist audience.

Outside of her everyday ‘researcher’ role, Dr Vincent is a consultant for Sleepfit, where she is leading a team of CQUniversity researchers to create content to improve shift worker health, sleep, and wellbeing. This involves designing an online platform for shift workers to 'ask the experts' about their sleep, as well as delivering sleep health tips and resources.

Despite Dr Vincent’s impressive research achievements, thus far, she said there was still plenty more left to investigate. “We are currently applying for funding to extend our research. We need to provide practical solutions to shift workers on how to manage sleep and fatigue under different conditions," she said.

"There are some strategies that may be quite simple and easy to do, like performing brief periods of exercise upon waking to improve alertness but are yet to be scientifically investigated – so this is something we definitely need to keep pursuing."