People who work long hours, get up early or have long commutes are less likely to get enough sleep, according to new research.
A study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine published in the journal Sleep identifies characteristics and behaviours associated with short sleep that could be targeted to reduce its negative health consequences.
The Penn Medicine team analysed data from a representative sample of 124,517 Americans 15 years and older who participated in the American Time Use Survey (ATUS) between 2003 and 2011.
“Intervention programmes and educational campaigns can only be successful if they target the right behaviour, at the right time of day, and in the right population. Time use surveys provide these crucial insights that cannot be derived from experimental or epidemiological studies,” said lead author Mathias Basner, assistant professor of sleep and chronobiology in psychiatry. “The evidence that time spent working was the most prominent sleep thief was overwhelming,” Basner said. “It was evident across all sociodemographic strata and no matter how we approached the question.”
The research found short sleepers started working earlier in the morning and stopped working later at night. With every hour that work or educational activities started later in the morning, sleep time increased by approximately 20 minutes. Those working multiple jobs were 61 percent more likely to be short sleepers. Moreover, self-employed respondents with more flexible work times were less likely to be short sleepers on week days and average sleep time was higher during the economic crisis years with lower employment rates.
The research offers potential avenues for policy makers to help increase sleep time and improve public health, such as postponing work and class start times, or incentivising more flexible scheduling. The findings also point to behaviours unrelated to work that are associated with short sleep including watching TV late at night or spending prolonged periods of time in the bathroom in the morning. In these areas, the researchers say, raising awareness about the importance of sufficient sleep for health and safety may be necessary to reduce the prevalence of short sleep.