Is your job keeping you up at night? If so, you’re not alone. According to a new study, the prevalence of people suffering from sleep deprivation has increased steadily over the past decade—and certain professions, like police officers and healthcare workers, are more likely to suffer than others. This study does more than just highlight the types of people who are most likely to be sleep deprived, it also identifies an important connection between sleep difficulties and job stress. By taking a closer look at the lifestyles most commonly associated with inadequate sleep, we can start to develop healthier habits and more effective sleep solutions.
Researchers at Indiana’s Ball State University analyzed data from the National Health Interview Survey to get a better picture of how sleep deprivation has become more prevalent in the US—and who is most affected by it. The study focused on 150,000 working adults, who each provided self-reports of their nightly sleep duration over the course of 2010 to 2018. Overall, the research showed that lack of sleep has become a more common occurrence over the years. In 2010, the prevalence of “inadequate sleep” was 30.9%—but by 2018, that number had jumped to 35.6%.
According to the study, the people who struggled the most with inadequate sleep were those that work in police, protective service and military jobs—with 50% of respondents in those professions regularly reporting less than seven hours a sleep. Healthcare support workers came in at a close second at 45%, while transportation and material moving and factory production occupations rounded out the list at 41% each.
The study defined “short sleep duration” or “inadequate sleep” as anything less than seven hours—and many of the police and healthcare workers reported that five or six hours of shut-eye a night was more common for them.
While the research did not dig into why it is that these professionals are sleeping less, there is plenty of room for speculation. According to Jagdish Khubchandani, professor of health science and head of the study, theorized that stress played a major role in decreasing sleep. Both police and health care work can be incredibly stressful, as people in those professions are often required to endure long hours and are more likely to witness dangerous or potentially life or death situations. Even on the more mundane days, these workers are often expected to be on call in case of an emergency—which can make it difficult to fully disconnect from their stressful work environment at home.
While police and health care are two extreme examples, anxiety around your job is something that many working adults experience today. Whether it’s due to looming deadlines, possible layoffs, oversized workloads or simply the expectation that you should always be reachable, today’s jobs climate can take a real toll on people’s health. And when the pressure of daily life continue to mount, quality sleep is often one of the first casualties.
Not only is ongoing poor sleep bad for your health, it can also have a direct effect on your work performance. Research has shown that sleep deprivation can cause people to be less focused during the day, and increase the likelihood of both conflict and mistakes. This creates a potentially dangerous cycle, as poor sleep leads to more work stress—which in turn leads to less sleep.
Breaking this cycle can be tricky, as it requires evaluating daytime and nighttime habits.
When it comes to lack of sleep, Khubchandani offered up a few different tactics for addressing the issue, depending on how extreme the deprivation is. For those who are suffering from clinical insomnia, he cited cognitive behavioral therapy as the best first step—it helps patients develop and maintain routines to help them manage anxiety and fall asleep.
For less severe cases, simply making lifestyle changes on your own may be enough to have an impact. That can include revamping your diet or introducing exercise and meditation into your daily life. Many people can also benefit from what Todd Arnedt, a clinical psychologist from the University of Michigan specializing in insomnia, calls a “wind down period before bedtime.” That includes turning off your smart electronics, dimming the lights and engaging in quieter activities like reading or taking a bath. As Arnedt explains, ”the idea is to prepare your body for bed, get it ready for going to sleep, train your brain and your body that sleep is coming."
Why This Study Matters—And What You Can Do About It
Understanding Your Customer Better
As the prevalence of both stress and inadequate sleep continues to grow, it’s clear that they are part of a larger cultural or systemic issue. It would be inaccurate—and unhelpful—to say that sleep retailers alone can totally solve these problems for their customers. But you can be more cognizant and compassionate about how these issues are impacting them. By having a clearer understanding of how different jobs can affect sleep duration or quality, you can start a more meaningful dialogue about their needs—and hopefully point them to solutions that can really help.
Offer Products That Improve Relaxation
As research has shown, your brain needs time to slow down and start to prepare for sleep long before you actually close your eyes to go to bed. By supplementing your mattress offerings with more relaxation-oriented products, you can help your customers transform their bedroom into a sleep sanctuary. Whether it’s with aromatherapy products, CBD supplements or soothing music, these unique add-ons help consumers start to think about their sleep more holistically.
Provide Educational Resources
It’s also important to understand that the right environment is only one piece of the sleep puzzle. There are many other factors that can make it difficult for people to fall and stay asleep. While some of those contributing factors—like light or sound or temperature—can be addressed with specific bedding accessories or technologies, not all of them are quite so cut and dry. Issues like work stress or anxiety are more elusive and difficult to address through products alone. By communicating with your customers about sleep hygiene and offering educational resources about building better sleep habits, you are giving them the tools they need to get the most out of their new sleep system.
Recognize How You May Be Perpetuating The Problem
While there is not a lot that you can do to directly lessen the stress levels of the healthcare industry, for example, there are probably things you can do to improve the lives of your own employees. In today’s world, stress has become a common occurrence no matter what field you work in. And though you may not be able to transform your store or company into a totally stress-free zone, you can look critically at where you may be able to lessen some of that anxiety. That could include advocating for fair and equal pay, well-defined work hours, quality benefits, flexible time-off—or even simply giving your employees more of a voice when it comes to your company culture. Recognizing that job stress can cause sleep problems means very little if you are not practicing what you preach to your customers. When your employees are more empowered, less stressed and adequately rested, they are more likely to perform their job tasks more successfully. And when that happens, everyone wins.
This story was originally featured in eNews. Click here to get Sleep Retailer eNews delivered straight to your inbox.