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Advocating for Better Sleep on the Job: Come with the Facts

Most of us know we could use a few more zzz’s, but when it comes to our jobs, many of us simply accept poor sleep as a fact of life. While you might think this makes you more successful, most of the statistics1 say otherwise.

We’ve brought the facts to help you decide for yourself if burning the midnight oil is really worth it, as well as show you how you stack up next to other careers. You may even find yourself advocating for better sleep on the job in your next one-on-one meeting.

Work Culture in America

Work culture in America often emphasizes working long hours and prioritizing work responsibilities above all else, often at the detriment of family, social, and personal obligations. The bad news? It’s getting worse.

According to a 2020 study2, the prevalence of short sleep duration has risen significantly since 2010, accounting for up to 35 percent of working adults in the U.S. The culprit? Many point to shift work and the increase in technology, which makes us feel like we never truly leave the office.

While you might think prioritizing work over sleep is the proven way to be more successful, that’s not necessarily true.

Getting at least seven hours3 of sleep is not only vitally essential to the proper functioning of your body, but it’s also important for memory retention and cognitive function. So operating on less sleep might mean you get to the office earlier than your co-workers, but it could also mean you’re operating with half the brainpower.

There are, however, outliers that seem to defy the system with their incredible success and short sleep, and a term originally coined by the Wall Street Journal, “The Sleepless Elite4”, could explain this phenomenon. ” These people reportedly comprise 1-3 percent of the population. Though the data on this is limited, a doctor at the University of California at San Francisco found a possible genetic link as to why some might need less sleep5.

Before you decide to chalk up your lack of business success to the fact that you’re missing this gene, it’s highly unlikely that every underslept successful person possesses it. We all have our limits, and just because someone appears to be successful doesn’t mean they aren’t still dealing with the consequences—or will in the future.

Learn More: How Much Sleep Do We Need?

Dangers of Sleep Deprivation

A lack of sleep can lead to car accidents6, mistakes at work, falling asleep on the job, and a slew of other risks, but we still encourage you to seriously ask yourself, “What is my alternative?”

Career success may be your top priority now. However, we all have our limits, and in choosing not to sleep, you may be choosing instead to enter a situation with a high risk of health issues and work-related accidents. Rather than make a mistake that could end your career, we’ll go over a few ways that you can advocate for better sleep before doing something you might regret.

Who Sleeps the Least?

If you’re wondering where you stack up next to your peers, we’ve looked into the best and worst sleepers by profession according to CDC research7 performed in the last decade.

Production Workers

Production workers have the highest prevalence of sleep disorders in the United States. Including those working in metal, plastic, wood, textiles, and food processing.

This could be because these workers often operate on alternating day and night shifts, making it difficult for the body to sync up and allow for proper rest even when they’re not on the job. According to research8, shift work reliably results in up to two hours of sleep loss when working the night shift. On a regular basis, this deficit can certainly add up.

Health Care Support Staff

If you thought doctors would break the top of the list—not quite. It’s actually their support staff, such as nurses, home health aides, and therapy assistants.

Unfortunately, when it comes to sleep, those entrusted with the care of our health are sometimes the last to prioritize it themselves. Research from NYU9 shows that nurses are not sleeping enough before their shifts, and breaks are likely not enough to account for the disparity. However, the problem is likely not their fault.

This group of people also are often on shift work schedules, working through the night and on weekends with few breaks. Managing a work/life balance can be nearly impossible with these hours, not to mention syncing up a healthy sleep schedule.

Health Care Providers

Just below support staff on the poor rest list are medical practitioners, who also tend to do shift work that can last up to 24 hours or more, depending on local laws.

According to a 2019 study10, most doctors sleep less than seven hours a night and use days off to catch up. While the addition of on-call rooms in hospitals might help, it’s also up to individuals to advocate for their sleep schedules and maintain proper sleep hygiene, which we’ll get to in a bit.

Police Officers and Firefighters

These people are also entrusted with the general public’s safety and are often subject to developing sleep disorders and short sleep. From long shifts to night shifts, fires and crimes don’t sleep, so neither do those who protect us from them.

If you’re beginning to notice a trend here, you’re not alone.

Transportation and Material Moving

Next on the list are those who spend long days and nights on the road, across time zones and away from their own home and bed. Whether these folks drive a bus across states or an 18-wheeler from coast to coast, these workers often miss out on vital sleep.

While some bunk in hotels, others stay in a compartment within their truck or other less homey environments while on the job.

Management and Legislators

Quite a way further down on the list we come to business and financial executives like CEOs, senators, representatives, and others. It’s important to note that in most cases, professionals support staff precede them on the list of sleeping worse. This could imply that the poor sleep habits of management and legislators may be more self-imposed than among other professions.

Legal Profession

Including lawyers, judges, clerks, and other related people, the legal profession is often touted as one of the most underslept professions, though they are far from the top of the list. It’s important to recognize that this survey is by no means a reflection of each individual in a profession but rather a comprehensive look at the whole group.

So while many lawyers may be burning the midnight oil, it seems that plenty are getting the rest they need, at least compared to other professions.

Construction Workers

Ever been awoken by construction noises outside of your home? Think about the people who had to be up hours before to begin making the ruckus. From trade workers to construction managers, many people need to be at the job when most of us are still asleep.

In many cases, construction workers also engage in shift work when roads can only be worked on at night, worsening their potential for sleep problems.

Is Shift Work to Blame for Sleep Loss?

Based on the research, we’d say yes and no. You may have heard of Shift Work Disorder, which is a sleep disorder often caused by working the night shift that could result in insomnia, excessive sleepiness, and difficulty concentrating, among other symptoms.

If we know that shift work causes problems, you might be wondering why it still exists. Unfortunately, most industries that use shift work don’t currently have a better alternative. Fires, car accidents, and mechanical malfunctions don’t wait for daylight hours, and many need to be on call for emergencies. Additionally, in many cases, construction and road work is impossible during the day, and roads always need maintenance.

So if we can’t eliminate it, there should be other ways to make it manageable. Shift work certainly makes it more difficult to maintain good rest, but we don’t think it’s impossible. What it will take is probably a lot more education and training on the part of companies that use it.

With better habits and a better understanding of the way our bodies require sleep, we think there is much room for improvement, especially in less-than-desirable working conditions like the night shift.

Work Hazards from Sleep Loss

Among companies that haven’t prioritized sleep or found ways to train their employees on its importance, there are still many hazards that could probably be avoided. Most are even proven by examples from past and current research.

Increased Accident and Injury Rates

According to OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, accident and injury rates are 30 percent higher11 during night shifts. This supports the idea that long and irregular shifts lead to less sleep and more fatigue.

The website lists worker fatigue as the cause of industrial disasters such as the 2005 Texas City BP oil refinery explosion, which killed 15 people and injured dozens of others, as well as the accidents at Chernobyl and the Challenger space shuttle explosion.


Night shifts may be dangerous not only for workers but also for companies who want to avoid penalties and fines for accidents caused by their fatigued employees. The American Safety Council12 reports OSHA fined BP 87 million dollars for the refinery explosion.


A phenomenon where the brain takes over and forces overtired people to lose consciousness for short periods, microsleeps are known to cause car accidents, workplace injuries, and other dangerous situations. The scariest part? You likely won’t even know it’s happening until it’s too late.

When your head begins to nod, or your eyes close involuntarily, you aren’t nearing a dangerous situation, you’re in the middle of one. It’s time to pull over, call for a ride, or take a break for a nap.

Who’s Relying on Coffee?

Now that we know whose sleep is in jeopardy, we’re naturally curious about who is doing the most to stay awake and if it aligns with poor sleep. Is coffee more important to you than breakfast? Whatever the answer, you’re probably not alone, and if you’re wondering how you measure up to other professions in terms of coffee consumption, we’ve got an answer for you.

According to research13 from none other than Dunkin itself and Career Builder, we have the answers on who relies most heavily on coffee.

Food Preparation/Service Workers

It’s probably not much of a surprise that a group of people who often depend on their chipper attitude and winning service for a large portion of their income would depend heavily on caffeine to get them through the day. Additionally, many service workers are also considered shift workers, alternating night and day shifts, which interferes with good rest.

Being on your feet all day requires a high amount of energy, and the good news is that so long as they switch to decaf not long after lunch, coffee shouldn’t get too much in the way of their good sleep.


Scientists are often navigating a lot of important data, so it makes sense that they may rely on caffeine to help them stay alert and get through long, research-filled days. From what earlier statistics showed, it seems most scientists know about the half-life of caffeine in their bodies and time their cups correctly to avoid too much sleep interference.

Sales/Marketing Professionals

Where high energy is required for a job, it seems a high caffeine tolerance follows. Whether you’re selling ideas or products door to door, it seems these folks highly rely on caffeine to get their jobs done, but whether sleep is a factor isn’t clear from the research.


In the top five for both sleep deprivation and coffee drinking, this is just another indication of how shift work influences fatigue and sleep deprivation in a vicious cycle. Odd hours make for poor sleep, which requires more coffee throughout the day, leading to less sleep at night.


Another cliche that proves to have some truth to it, writers, editors, and media workers are high on the list of top coffee drinkers. It’s not entirely surprising since many in this field also frequent coffee shops to get work done.

It’s also possible this could be related to sleep chronotypes that suggest creative types tend to be more alert in the evening hours and less in the morning, requiring coffee to get going.

Business Executives

While CEOs aren’t likely to be required to do shift work, work culture in the U.S. often praises those who defy biological necessity in favor of career success. In this light, we aren’t surprised that they are also high on the list of coffee drinkers because the majority of them don’t have the benefit of the “Thatcher Gene” but are expected to maintain a high-achieving lifestyle.
Section 7

Which Professions Sleep the Best?

According to the CDC’s research, we can also draw some conclusions about the jobs that encourage better sleep among employees.7


With an early start to the day and usually ending long before it’s dark outside, this job, though not easy, should allow for a better sleep schedule – especially in K-12 levels where research and other work responsibilities are less time-consuming.

Farmers/Agricultural Workers

If you’ve ever seen an old farmhouse sign with some cute saying about getting up early, this may come as a surprise to you, but the facts don’t lie. Farmers, hunters, fishers, and forestry workers tend to miss out on less sleep than many of us. Whether it’s from the physical effects of syncing up your circadian rhythm with the sun early in the morning or just a hard day’s work, some of us may want to give it a try on a smaller scale.


Whether educators or otherwise employed, mathematicians have some of the lowest occurrences of sleep problems by occupation. However, it should be noted that there is a steep incline with computer programming mathematicians, who sleep considerably less.
Section 8

Tips for Advocating for Sleep on the Job

Advocating for better sleep at work will largely depend on which industry you work in. Currently, there is a shortage of strict labor laws in the United States that revolve around limiting shifts and protecting employees’ sleep. While in some cases businesses will pay their employees to sleep on the clock, this isn’t a common occurrence.

In some cases, unions can advocate for better conditions without causing you to single yourself out and put your job at risk. However, in most cases, advocating for your rest will likely be up to you, which is why we put together a list of information you might want to share with your employer about the positive effects of having well-rested employees.

Benefits of Well Rested Employee Infographic

Benefits of Well-Rested Employees

Morale Boost

A study14 from the University of North Carolina concluded that companies who invest in training about lifestyle changes associated with shift work for employees could help boost workplace morale and decrease risks of high employee turnover from low workplace satisfaction.

Lower Stress

According to the CDC15, our blood pressure is higher when we sleep, and with sleep problems, it tends to stay high for a longer period after waking up. So if companies want stressed and unhealthy employees, prioritizing deadlines over rest is the way to do it.

Better Performance

Workers who get less than seven hours of sleep per night often report poorer workplace performance. From taking longer to complete simple tasks to struggling to stay awake in meetings, in many cases, feeling a sense of lethargy can increase the risks of mistakes in the workplace. According to research from Hult International Business School, employees who frequently get enough sleep are much more likely to avoid these types of issues.1

Section 9

How to Help Employees Sleep Better

If you are looking to improve your rest, your employer might want suggestions on how to improve the company culture to emphasize sleep. We recommend looking to companies who have already made the change for inspiration.

How to Improve Your Employees Sleep Infographic

Create Workplace Incentives for Sleep

You may consider following Aetna’s example, which according to Business Insider16, pays its employees up to 300 dollars yearly for getting good rest before coming to work. The company uses a self-reporting program that allows employees to collect 25 dollars for every 20 nights of good rest.

You could also consider a pledge system, giveaway, or drawing with entries based on rest.

Provide Sleep Spaces

Accounting firm Deloitte17 recommends creating “nap rooms” or spaces with aromatherapy and lowlight for short naps during breaks. If this is a little too extreme for your company, you might consider starting with a comfortable break room to help employees de-stress on breaks.

In some situations, adding on-call rooms or staff resting areas in hospitals helps the staff rest more, which boosts productivity and efficiency18.

Provide Shift-Work Training

While the employees are most likely adults who are perfectly capable of creating their own sleep schedules according to their work hours, transitioning to shift work can be a big change that can result in sleep issues and create a poor work/life balance. In many cases, shift work training can help to smooth the transition and prepare workers for the difficulties of shift work, helping to avoid sleep issues and on-site accidents.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH19) even created a free online course for shift training nurses that could be used as a model for other training classes or programs.

Provide Proper Lighting

Our sleep/wake schedules depend heavily on the circadian rhythm to regulate hormones that make us awake and sleepy. When employees get up early for work and head home late, they may miss out on the powerful benefits of the sun in the morning that get them going. By providing natural lighting in office spaces, employees may feel more awake throughout the day.

If windows aren’t an option, there are plenty of lamps that simulate natural light that could be placed at a desk for a similar effect.

Section 10


Most of the top jobs for sleep deprivation are those that rely heavily on shift work. From police officers to nurses and factory workers, there seems to be a disconnect between the understanding of sleep’s role in improving workplace performance, minimizing accidents, and generally keeping workers happy.

By advocating for better rest in the workplace, we may see a change come about in the attitude toward sleep. At least for now, you can come to your next work meeting with facts and make the case for sleep.

Katie Harris

Katie Harris

Content Writer

About Author

Katie writes content at Sleep Advisor, where she has finally found people who appreciate her true passion for sleep. Based in Austin, Texas, she graduated with a degree in Communications and enjoys combining creativity with research to improve the world’s sleep, starting with her sleepwalking husband.

Combination Sleeper


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