To be healthy and to function mentally and physically at our best, most of us — once we’ve reached adulthood — need at least seven hours of sleep per day, according to experts.
Getting less than that amount has been linked to obesity and a variety of negative health outcomes, including heart disease, diabetes and depression. Insufficient sleep also increases the risk of injuries from accidents and mental errors, both on and off the job.
Yet Americans are significantly sleep-deprived. About one-third of adults aged 18 and older in the U.S. get less than the recommended seven hours on most nights.
If you are among that sleep-deprived group, your job may be at least partly responsible. For according to a study published recently by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), workers in certain occupations are at particular risk of getting less than seven hours of sleep per day.
Not surprisingly, workers in jobs that commonly involve shiftwork were most likely to be short of the necessary amount of nightly shut-eye.
The study found that was also true of workers who were younger, less educated and black.
The CDC study is based on data collected from 179,621 adults in 29 states (including Minnesota) who took part in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey in 2013 and 2014. The survey asked, among other questions, “On average, how many hours of sleep do you get in a 24-hour period?”
All the respondents were employed at the time they took the survey. Their occupations were split into 22 major categories (as defined by the Bureau of Labor), which were then further subdivided into 93 more specific job groups.
Overall, 36.5 percent of the respondents — 31.6 percent of Minnesotans — reported that they got less than seven hours of sleep on a typical night. But the percentages were higher for some of the major occupation categories, particularly production (42.9 percent), health-care support (40.1 percent), health-care practitioners and technical (40 percent), food preparation and serving-related (39.8 percent) and protective service (39.2).
Those categories include many people whose jobs involve shiftwork, such as factory workers, nurses, cooks, firefighters and law enforcement officers.
In some of the other categories, however, the percentage of workers who reported not getting enough sleep was lower than the overall average. For example, a relatively low 31.3 percent of workers in both farming/fishing/forestry and education/training/library occupations fit the study’s definition of sleep deprived.
A deeper data dive
When the CDC researchers looked at the data for the 93 job categories, they found even greater differences. Here are some of the jobs with the greatest percentages of workers reporting less than seven hours of sleep per day:
- Switchboard/communications equipment operators: 58.2 percent
- Rail transportation workers: 52.7 percent
- Printing workers: 50.9 percent
- Supervisors, food preparation, and serving workers: 48.9 percent
- Entertainment attendants and related workers: 48.2 percent
- Firefighting and prevention workers: 45.8 percent
And here are some of the categories with the lowest percentages of workers reporting less than seven hours of sleep per day:
- Air transportation workers: 21.5 percent
- Religious workers: 22.4 percent
- First-line supervisors/managers/protective service workers: 23.7 percent
- Postsecondary teachers: 25.4 percent
- Life scientists: 26.8 percent
- Agricultural workers: 30.2 percent
The low rate of sleep deprivation among air transportation workers is likely due to the Federal Aviation Administration’s 2011 overhaul of scheduling for commercial airline pilots, the CDC researchers point out. Pilots must now be given a 10-hour minimum rest period before reporting for a flight.
The study also found that self-reported sleep deprivation decreased as people got older. While 37.7 percent of workers aged 18 to 34 reported not getting enough sleep, only 29.2 percent of those aged 65 and older reported the same. Educational levels also revealed differences. Among workers with less than a high school diploma, 37.4 percent said their typical sleep cycle lasted less than seven hours, while only 31.3 percent of those with a college degree said the same.
The greatest demographic difference, however, was among racial/ethnic groups. Almost half of non-Hispanic black workers (48.5 percent) reported not getting enough sleep, compared to 37.8 percent of Hispanic and 33.5 percent of white workers.
As the report notes, sleep deprivation has a huge impact on the U.S. economy: $411 billion each year, or 2.28 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. “Among employed persons, 1.2 million working days are lost in the United States each year because of sleep deprivation,” the report says. “It is estimated that if persons who sleep [less than] 6 hours per day began sleeping for 6-7 hours per day, approximately $226 billion could be added to the U.S. economy.”
Yet Americans continue to work long hours. In fact, the U.S. has “the longest annual working hours among all wealthy industrialized countries,” the report points out.
If we’re going to help workers get healthy — and if we’re going to make our roads and our factories and all our other places of commerce safer — we’re going to need to improve how we structure the workday so that people are given the opportunity of getting a good night’s sleep.
FMI: The report, which was published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality and Weekly Report, can be read online.