Sleep has long been on the decline on the admirable list of priorities in the United States, but at what cost? 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 statistics 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 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 research from Ball State University, 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 of technology which makes us feel like we never truly leave the office.
After hundreds of years of this attitude, you might think prioritizing work over sleep is the proven way to be more successful, but that’s not necessarily true.
Getting at least seven hours 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, but a term coined by the Wall Street Journal, “The Sleepless Elite”, could explain this phenomenon. Examples would be Martha Stewart who swears by her short sleep schedule and Tim Cook, CEO of Apple who prides himself on getting up before 4 AM daily. They could both be described as wildly successful, leaving many exhausted people in their wake wondering, “What gives?”
These people may belong to a group comprising from one to three percent of the population worldwide, an exclusive group of people who possess the “Thatcher Gene,” requiring them to sleep significantly less than the rest of us while functioning at full capacity.
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?
You’ve probably heard it all before, a lack of sleep can lead to car accidents, 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, and we might add—a good one. 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.
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 research performed in the last decade.
Production workers have the highest prevalence of sleep disorders in the United States. Including those working in metal, plastic, wood, textiles, and food processing, odds are that working in a plant means less than average rest.
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 a Swedish study, 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.
If you thought doctors would break the top of the list—not quite. It’s actually their support staff, names 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 NYU shows that nurses are not sleeping enough before their shifts and breaks are likely not enough to account for the disparity. However, before condemning those who work tirelessly saving lives, 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.
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.
Research from the American College of Chest Physicians found that most doctors sleep less than seven hours a night and use days off to catch up. While the addition of on-call rooms to hospitals might help curb the sleep epidemic rampant among doctors, it’s up to individuals to advocate for their sleep schedules and maintain proper hygiene, which we’ll get to in a bit.
These men and women are also entrusted with the safety of the general public and are often subject to develop 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.
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 drive an 18-wheeler from coast to coast, these men and women 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.
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.
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.
Ever been awoken by pesky 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.
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 is causing all kinds of problems, you might be wondering why it still exists. The sad truth is that 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.
Among companies who 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 the past and current research.
According to OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, accident and injury rates are 30 percent higher 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 fifteen people and injured dozens of others, as well as the accidents at Chernobyl, and the Challenger space shuttle explosion.
Night shifts may not only be dangerous for workers but also for companies who want to avoid penalties and fines for accidents caused by their fatigued employees. The American Safety Council reports OSHA fined BP $87 million 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 injury, 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.
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 research from none other than Dunkin itself and Career Builder, we have the answers on who relies most heavily on joe.
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.
We have to say we’re at least a little happy to hear that the scatterbrained and sleep-deprived caricature of most scientists portrayed on film could be partially correct, though we hope the sleep-deprived part is less true. 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.
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 5 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 which leads 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. We have to wonder, however, if it’s because we’re always hanging out in coffee shops for free wifi.
On a more serious note, it’s 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.
While CEOs aren’t likely to be required to do shift work, work culture in the US praises men and women 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 the high-achieving never-sleeping lifestyle.
According to the CDC’s research, we can also draw some conclusions about the jobs that encourage better sleep among employees.
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.
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 of just a hard day’s work, some 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, though it should be noted that there is a steep incline with computer programing mathematicians who sleep considerably less.
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 the sleep of employees. 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.
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.
You may consider following Aetna’s example, which according to Business Insider pays its employees up to $300 yearly for getting good rest before coming into work. The company uses a self-reporting program that allows employees to collect $25 for every 20 nights of good rest.
If you don’t want to pay employees for their good rest habits, you could consider a pledge system or giveaway or drawing with entries based on rest.
Accounting super firm Deloitte 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 destress on breaks.
In some situations, adding on-call rooms or staff resting areas in hospitals has increased staff efficiency and reduced medical errors according to Erdman Insights.
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 creating 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 (NIOSH) even created a free online course for shift training nurses that could be used as a model for other training classes or programs.
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.
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.
The research doesn’t lie, and by advocating for better rest in the workplace, we hope to see a change come about in the attitude toward sleep. At least for now, you can come with the facts to your next work meeting and make the case for sleep.