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Early Work Cancels Adequate Sleep

The earlier we start our work day, whether our work is designed to educate ourselves or to earn money, the less time we spend getting the restorative sleep that we need. That is the latest finding by a group of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania. Their study concludes that in order for us to improve our overall health, consideration should be given to having later work and school start times.

In order to come to their conclusion, the scientists conducted a comprehensive and exhaustive analysis of data that had been collected from nearly 125,000 American adults between the years 2003 and 2011. The information was part of the American Time Use Survey, a phone poll conducted every year by the U.S. Census Bureau. Their analysis revealed that for every hour that a work schedule is pushed back, Americans are getting 20 minutes more sleep, and that is not an insignificant amount of time. Twenty minutes more can make the difference between chronic sleep deprivation and getting the sleep that a body needs, and that can have a significant difference in a person’s health, physical and cognitive performance, memory, ability to learn, and even in the safety of their driving.

According to the report, “Results show that with every hour that work or educational training started later in the morning, sleep time increased by approximately 20 minutes. Respondents slept an average of only six hours when starting work before or at 6:00 a.m. and 7:29 hours when starting work between 9:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m.”

Beyond tracking the time differences, the study determined how different life activities impact the sleep schedule, and concluded that work is the primary waking activity that impacts the amount of sleep that we get. Those who work in the private sector were determined to be 17 percent less likely to be sleep deprived and sleep less than six hours than was the case with those who are self-employed, and those who work multiple jobs were the most likely to fall into the short sleep category, with a 61 percent increased chance.

According to lead author Dr. Mathias Basner, an associate professor of sleep and chronobiology in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, “The evidence that time spent working was the most prominent sleep thief was overwhelming.” The study also showed that if work times are more flexible, sleep deprivation can be overcome. “Potential intervention strategies to decrease the prevalence of chronic sleep loss in the population include greater flexibility in morning work and class start times, reducing the prevalence of multiple jobs, and shortening morning and evening commute times.”

Upon reviewing the study’s results, Dr. Timothy Morgenthaler, the president of the American Academy of Sleep, said, “Getting at least seven hours of nightly sleep is essential to be at your mental, emotional and physical best, for whatever you will pour yourself into, either at work or at home.”

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