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Many Workers Get Too Little Sleep

March 3, 2017
NIOSH Update:

Contact: Stephanie Stevens (202) 245-0641

Too little sleep more common in some occupations than in others

There are significant differences in short sleep duration – less than seven hours a night –among occupational groups, according to a CDC study published today in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. This is the first study to evaluate short sleep duration in more than 90 detailed occupation groups and across multiple states.

“We found that overall prevalence of short sleep duration was 36.5 percent among the working adults who responded to the survey – but sleep duration varied widely by occupation,” said study author Taylor Shockey, M.P.H. of CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). “Workers in occupations where alternative shiftwork is common, such as production, health care, and some transportation jobs, were more likely to have a higher adjusted prevalence of short sleep duration. Workers in other occupation groups, such as teachers, farmers, or pilots were the most likely to report getting enough sleep.”

Who’s getting too little sleep?

CDC researchers analyzed data from 179,621 currently employed adults who participated in the 2013 or 2014 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) annual telephone survey. Respondents were from 29 states that voluntarily administered an optional industry and occupation survey module. Prevalence of short sleep duration was calculated for 22 major occupation groups established by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which were then further broken down into 93 detailed occupation groups.

Among the 22 major occupation groups, adjusted prevalence of short sleep duration ranged from 42.9 percent among production workers to 31.3 percent among workers in the farming, fishing, and forestry occupation group and among workers in the education, training, and library occupation group.

Adjusted prevalence of short sleep duration among the 93 detailed occupation groups ranged from 58.2 percent among communications equipment operators (e.g., switchboard operators) to 21.4 percent among air transportation workers (e.g., pilots).

Other major occupation groups found to have a high adjusted prevalence of workers reporting short sleep duration include:

  • Health care support (40.1%),
  • Health care practitioners and technical (40.0%),
  • Food preparation and serving-related (39.8%), and
  • Protective service (39.2%).

Detailed occupation groups with a high adjusted prevalence of short sleep duration include:

  • Nursing, psychiatric and home health aides within the healthcare support major group (43.3%)
  • Transportation (e.g., parking attendants, transportation inspectors, etc.) (54%), and
  • Rail transportation workers (e.g., locomotive engineers, subway operators, etc.) (52.7%).

“Short sleep duration has been linked to various negative health outcomes including cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression, as well as to safety issues related to drowsy driving and injuries,” said Shockey. “This research suggests that there are occupational differences in sleep duration making occupation an important factor to consider in sleep research and interventions.”

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommend adults (18-60 years) get seven or more hours of sleep per day. However, multiple factors may contribute to workers getting less than the recommended amount. Shift work, job stress, work hours, and physically demanding work have each been linked to sleep duration. Additionally, societal factors such as round the clock access to technology and the pressure to work harder has increased work hours and thus also led to an increase of short sleep among U.S. adults.

Time at work continues to increase in the United States. U.S. workers have the longest annual working hours among workers in all wealthy industrialized countries, reducing the time available for sleep. A goal of Healthy People 2020 is to “increase public knowledge of how adequate sleep and treatment of sleep disorders improve health, productivity, wellness, quality of life, and safety on roads and in the workplace,” with a specific objective to increase the proportion of adults getting sufficient sleep.

NIOSH offers training and resources about sleep, shiftwork, and fatigue for a variety of audiences and workers including air transportation workers, emergency responders, healthcare workers, railroad workers, and truck drivers. To download these free materials, visit the NIOSH website.

NIOSH is the federal institute that conducts research and makes recommendations for preventing work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths. For more information about NIOSH visit www.cdc.gov/niosh/.

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