When you’re busy with work, and responsibilities at home, does your sleep suffer? Do you get to bed later than you’d planned, or wake in the early morning already thinking about all you need to tackle during the day? If so, you have a lot of company.
According to a recent study released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), nearly one-third of workers in the United States aren’t getting enough sleep. The CDC examined more than 15,000 responses to the 2010 National Health Interview Survey, analyzing the data for information about the sleep habits of working people. In their analysis, CDC researchers looked at workers’ sleep in relation to several demographic factors, including age, gender, race and ethnicity, marital status, education and type of employment.
The study found that overall, 30% of workers in the US are sleeping for no more than 6 hours a day. That’s at best an hour short of the 7-8 hours of daily sleep that most of us need. The rates of low sleep among different industries vary significantly, ranging from a low of 24.1% for an industry category titled “other services, except public administration” to a high of 41.6% for workers in the mining industry. More than a third of manufacturing workers – 34% – reported sleeping no more than 6 hours on a daily basis.
The study also showed big differences among day and night shift workers:
- 44% of night shift workers reported sleeping 6 hours or less per day
- 28% of day shift workers reported sleeping no more than 6 hours
Among night shift workers, those in certain industries were especially likely to be short on sleep: 69.7% of transportation and warehousing workers and 52.3% of health care/social assistance workers reported sleeping for no more than 6 hours daily.
When examining age, researchers found that those in the middle of the pack were more likely to be short on sleep. Workers age 45-64 had the highest rate of insufficient sleep, at 31.8%. They were closely followed by workers ages 30-44, of whom 31.6% reported sleeping for no more than 6 hours daily
Both middle-age working groups were much more likely to report low sleep than younger workers: 26.5% of workers ages 18-29, and 21.7% of workers over the age of 65 said they slept for 6 hours or less per night.
When looking at marital status, researchers found that people who’d been widowed, divorced or separated from a partner were measurably more likely to be sleeping less than people who were married or those who had never been married: 29.4% of married workers said they slept no more than 6 hours per day, compared to 28.2% of workers who had never been married and 36.4% of those who were widowed, divorced, or separated.
Workers at the far ends of the education spectrum reported sleeping more than workers in the middle. Slightly more than a quarter of workers who had attained a college degree –26.7% – reported sleeping no more than 6 hours per day, compared to:
- 33.8% of workers who had completed some college
- 33.7% of those who had completed high school or the equivalent
- 29.1 % who had not completed high school
Not surprisingly, workers with multiple jobs and those who worked long hours at a single job were more likely to sleep for no more than 6 hours in a day: 37% of workers who held multiple jobs said they slept no more than 6 hours, as did 36.2% of those who worked more than 40 hours a week and 27.7% of people who worked under 40 hours per week.
We’ve seen lots of evidence recently that workers in a wide range of industries are having trouble with sleep. In one way or another, sleep deprivation will affect work performance in addition to an individual’s health and well being. And the consequences can be serious for the public at large, especially when the sleep-deprived are part of a workforce that involves public safety, such as police, firefighters, airline workers, or medical professionals.
In just the past several months, we’ve seen news of:
- Wall Street investment bankers working in a culture of chronic sleep deprivation
- Widespread sleep problems among police and other law enforcement professionals in the US and Canada
- Ongoing safety issues in the airline industry where sleep has played a role, both with air traffic controllers and pilots
- The hazards of extended shift work among medical residents in the US
The risks of not sleeping enough are well known, and they are as true for a shift worker in a manufacturing plant or a cop working the night beat as they are for a busy stay-at-home mom or a fresh college grad toiling in an office job. Low sleep interferes with our performance on the job – whatever job we do.
Being short on sleep also makes it harder to enjoy our lives outside of work. In addition, chronic sleep deprivation puts you at risk for serious health problems, including:
- Heart disease and stroke
- Depression, anxiety and other mental health issues
So what can you do? Close the computer at 6 p.m. Decline that extra bit of overtime. Don’t bring work home on the weekends. It’s up to each of us to find ways to set reasonable limits so that our work lives don’t rob us of the sleep we need.
Michael J. Breus, PhD
The Sleep Doctor™