Night-shift workers at highest risk for sleep problems, unique CDC study shows

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Employees who work night shifts have the highest risk of developing sleep-related problems, according to a first-of-its-kind study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC used a nationally representative sample of more than 6,000 adult workers to gauge how their work hours affected their amount and quality of sleep. It's the first time such an inclusive sample has been in used in a study on shift work and sleep, the agency noted.

Nearly 40% of the survey's respondents — representing 54.1 million workers on a national scale — reported that they sleep less than the recommended seven to nine hours each night. That number jumped to 61.8% when the results were narrowed to only those who worked a night shift.

A higher number of night-shift workers also reported poor sleep quality, insomnia and impaired sleep-related activities of daily living than their day-shift working counterparts.

Female workers, along with current smokers and workers who are obese, had a higher prevalence of poor sleep quality. Female workers also reported higher rates of insomnia and impaired sleep-related ADLs than male workers.

“Particularly in light of the likely continuing increase in nontraditional working schedules, work-based prevention strategies and policies should be adopted to improve the quantity and quality of sleep among workers,” said Geoffrey Calvert, MD, MPH, FACP, a team leader and senior medical epidemiology with the CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. “Unfortunately, there is no single ideal strategy to successfully address the sleep risks of every demanding shift work situation.”

Calvert recommended employers design shift schedules with frequent rest breaks, avoid scheduling night shifts that exceed eight hours, and encourage employees to take a long nap before a night shift-begins.