Flexible schedules may help workers catch the ZZZs they’re missing

Jan. 5, 2015—American workers are swapping sleep time for more hours on the job—and on the commute—according to a study published in the journal Sleep.

Since sleep deprivation is linked to a number of serious health problems, workers could benefit from reclaiming some of the slumber they’re losing. And this study’s authors suggest that flextime—a flexible work schedule—might be one way to do it.

About the study

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania looked at the American Time Use Survey (ATUS) conducted annually by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Between 2003 and 2011, the ATUS telephone survey of 124,517 Americans age 15 and older reported on certain activities that took away from respondents’ sleep time. The survey results showed a link between longer work activity and shorter sleep.

In the study, people who slept a total of 6 hours or fewer on weekdays (including naps) were considered short sleepers.

Compared to normal sleepers—those who get 6 or more hours of shuteye each day—short sleepers:

  • Worked 1.55 more hours on weekdays
  • Worked 1.86 more hours on weekends or holidays
  • Traveled more in their commutes to work
  • Started both their commutes and their work days earlier in the morning
  • Ended their workdays and stopped their commutes later in the evening

For every hour later in the morning that the workday began, sleep time increased approximately 20 minutes. People who started work between 9 and 10 a.m. slept an average of 7.29 hours. Those who clocked in to work at or before 6 a.m. averaged only 6 hours of sleep.

Who is at risk?

Those at highest risk for being short on sleep are people who have more than one job, according to the study. In fact, adults working multiple jobs were 61 percent more likely than others to be short sleepers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about a third of employed U.S. adults—more than 40 million workers—typically sleep 6 hours or less in a 24-hour period.

Insufficient sleep has been linked to serious health concerns, including:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Obesity

In addition, insufficient sleep can undermine work performance and may even affect whether someone makes it safely through the day. That’s because a lack of sleep has been linked to motor vehicle crashes, industrial disasters and other occupational errors.

The University of Pennsylvania researchers suggested that flextime is one potential solution for America’s sleep-deprived workers. Read the study online to learn more.

The take-home message
For many people—police officers, firefighters, machine operators, fabricators and laborers, for example—the nature of their work dictates when they work, making it difficult to allow for flextime. But even if you cannot set up flexible hours or figure out a shorter commute, there are still ways to get the sleep you need.

To help you get the 7 to 9 hours of sleep that supports productivity, good health and daytime alertness, the National Sleep Foundation suggests that you:

  • Exercise every day
  • Go to bed and wake up at the same times all 7 days of the week
  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine
  • Sleep on a comfortable bed in a cool, dark bedroom
  • Use a white noise machine to mask distracting sounds
  • Avoid cigarettes and caffeinated or alcoholic beverages


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