If you are not sleeping enough, the time you spend at work may be to blame. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine analyzed a large set of data about how Americans spend their time. They found that individuals were more likely to be “short sleepers”—people who sleep fewer than six hours each night—if they worked more hours. The findings suggest that more flexible hours and later work start times may help Americans get the sleep they need.
The researchers analyzed responses from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), which is conducted annually by the U.S. Census Bureau and is sponsored by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. They evaluated surveys from more than 124,500 Americans, aged 15 and older, completed from 2003 to 2011. The survey asked the respondents about how they spent their time in a 24-hour period. Then, they grouped the activities into 40 categories. For the purposes of the study, sleep included napping, waking up, and dreaming in addition to regular sleep.
Work is the primary activity that Americans in all socioeconomic groups exchange for sleep. Short sleepers especially reported working more—they worked earlier in the morning and stopped working later at night. Short sleepers worked 1.55 more hours on weekdays and 1.86 more hours on holidays and weekends compared to individuals who slept more than six hours. Increased travel time to and from work increased the risk of being a short sleeper. For every hour later that work or school began, sleep time increased by approximately 20 minutes.
The number jobs an individual had also impacted their risk of short sleep. People who worked multiple jobs were 61 percent more likely to be a short sleeper. On the other hand, self-employed people were 17 percent less likely to be a short sleeper, compared to private sector employees. Individuals who were unemployed, retired, or otherwise not working reported sleeping significantly more and were less likely to be short sleepers.
“The evidence that time spent working was the most prominent sleep thief was overwhelming,” stated lead study author Dr. Matias Basner, assistant professor of sleep and chronobiology in psychiatry. “Potential intervention strategies to decrease the prevalence of chronic sleep loss in the population include greater flexibility in morning work and class start times, reducing the prevalence of multiple jobs, and shortening morning and evening commute times.”
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that adults sleep around seven to nine hours each night.
This research is published in the journal Sleep.
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