05/14/2012 07:09 am ET Updated Jul 14, 2012

Working a Lot, Not Sleeping Enough

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 new 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 percent of workers in the U.S. are sleeping for no more than six hours a day. That's at best an hour short of the seven to eight 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 percent for an industry category titled "other services, except public administration" to a high of 41.6 percent for workers in the mining industry. More than a third of manufacturing workers -- 34 percent -- reported sleeping no more than six hours on a daily basis.

The study also showed big differences among day and night shift workers:

  • 44 percent of night shift workers reported sleeping six hours or fewer per day
  • 28 percent of day shift workers reported sleeping no more than six hours
  • Among night shift workers, those in certain industries were especially likely to be short on sleep: 69.7 percent of transportation and warehousing workers and 52.3 percent of health care/social assistance workers reported sleeping for no more than six 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 percent
  • They were closely followed by workers ages 30-44, of whom 31.6 percent reported sleeping for no more than six hours daily
  • Both middle-age working groups were much more likely to report low sleep than younger workers: 26.5 percent of workers ages 18-29, and 21.7 percent of workers over the age of 65 said they slept for six hours or fewer 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 percent of married workers said they slept no more than six hours per day, compared to:
  • 28.2 percent of workers who had never been married and
  • 36.4 percent 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 percent -- reported sleeping no more than six hours per day, compared to

  • 33.8 percent of workers who had completed some college
  • 33.7 percent of those who had completed high school or the equivalent
  • 29.1 percent 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 six hours in a day.

  • 37 percent of workers who held multiple jobs said they slept no more than six hours, as did:
  • 36.2 percent of those who worked more than 40 hours a week and
  • 27.7 percent 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:

The risks of not sleeping enough are well known, and 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:

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 work life doesn't rob us of the sleep we need.

Sweet Dreams,
Michael J. Breus, PhD
The Sleep Doctor™

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