In many industries, sacrificing sleep is seen as a necessary part of success. Staying up late to finalise a project or meet a deadline is often considered a badge of honor—a genuine commitment to the job and the company as a whole. However, many people may not realise just how detrimental sleep loss is to work performance and productivity. Studies show that consistently giving up 1 to 2 hours of sleep a night can lead to reduced cognitive ability, lack of focus, decreased memory, and slower reaction times.
Not all industries adhere to this belief, however. Some occupations are getting adequate sleep and performing and feeling better at work. In a recent article, Sleep Junkie investigated the link between groups of workers in the US and their sleep habits. Their findings are based on the US CDC’s National Health Interview Survey, which uncovered some interesting connections between sleep and work hours, income, and the use of sleep-aids.
Although this survey was conducted in the US, many Australian workers are also caught in a vicious cycle of sleep deprivation and poor work performance. Read on to find out how your industry fares when it comes to adequate rest.
The importance of a sleep schedule
Sleep Junkie found that several groups of workers reported getting below the recommended 7 hours of sleep on a regular basis. These groups included firefighters, nurses and health professionals, law enforcement, and transportation workers. This is an alarming statistic when we consider that most of these workers are performing vital, lifesaving roles.
However, it is perhaps not surprising that these particular groups are losing hours of sleep. Health care workers, firefighters, and law enforcement frequently have to work odd hours that force them to sleep during the day and work during the night. When we sleep in opposition to our natural circadian rhythm (the rise and set of the sun), we often spend less time in deep sleep—leaving us unrested and unprepared for work. On top of this, these are high pressure jobs that can put the body in a constant state of stress, which impacts sleep.
In contrast, this survey found that many other workers are getting adequate sleep despite their busy schedules. Educators, retail sales workers, and librarians reported getting at least 7 hours of sleep each night. These workers tend to have a regular 9 to 5 workday, which affords them a more consistent sleep schedule than the groups mentioned above.
Agriculture, construction, and grounds maintenance workers also reported getting a full 7 hours a night. Many of these individuals wake up at sunrise and go to bed close to sunset because their work requires more daylight. Working outdoors also offers this group plenty of sunlight exposure. This combination allows them to naturally sync their sleep schedule to their circadian rhythm, making it easier for them to fall asleep, get a full 7 hours of sleep, and experience more deep sleep and REM sleep. These workers also benefit from daily physical exercise, which is linked to deeper, more restorative sleep.
The difference in income
What do these different sleep schedules mean in terms of income? In the United States, the sleep habits of those who earn between US$20,000 and US$60,000 annually are very similar. Each group gets an average of 7 hours each night. However, those who make between US$60,000 and US$80,000 a year dipped below the recommended amount of sleep.
This statistic suggests that as we advance our careers, whether through a promotion or an increase in business, more responsibility tends to create more demands on our time. When this happens, the first thing we sacrifice is adequate sleep. However, in the long run, sleep deprivation can reduce our productivity, making it harder for us to perform at our best and reach our goals.
The need for sleep aids
Studies have also shown the that fact that many of the same groups that reported getting below the recommended 7 hours of sleep were also more likely to rely on sleep aids. 12.7 percent of surveyed nurses and health care professionals admitted to taking sleep aids 7 or more times in the past week. 13.2 percent of plant and system operators claimed to do the same. Whether these sleep aids were prescription or over-the-counter is unclear.
However, this is an alarming statistic because many sleep aids, even those deemed ‘natural,’ can have dangerous side effects that make getting adequate sleep even more difficult. Studies show that sleep aids can interfere with our ability to concentrate and perform everyday tasks. Many sleep-inducing medications can cause increased drowsiness, oversleeping, nightmares, headaches, nausea, and dry mouth. In some cases, these aids can also disrupt our natural sleep-wake cycle, making it impossible to maintain a regular sleep schedule.
A safer, more natural way to get better sleep, even if you work odd hours, is to relax and alleviate stress before bed. This can be done by performing simple breathing exercises that calm the nervous system or by taking a warm bath or shower. When the mind is less anxious, the body will quickly relax so you can find the sleep you need.
No matter what your profession, your work performance is vital to advancement and success. You may be tempted to sacrifice a few hours of sleep to get more work done, but this loss can be detrimental to your health and productivity. It may be difficult for some professionals to maintain a consistent sleep schedule and get a full 7 hours of sleep each night. Therefore, these groups will have to work even harder to ensure they don’t deprive themselves of the rest they need to feel their best and make a difference at work.
Please note: This article is not to be used as medical advice. This post may contain affiliate links.