Work, Long Commutes May Cut Sleep

Sleep time was shorter in those with multiple jobs or long commutes

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Missing out on Zs? Your job or long commute may be to blame.

A new study found that many Americans short-change their sleep to meet the demands of paid work hours or because they must deal with long commutes. They may also make choices that result in less sleep, such as socializing or watching TV.

Trading sleep for work can pose health risks. Sleep deprivation has been tied to car accidents, obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease. The authors of this study recommended more flexibility in working hours — especially in regards to later starting times — as a possible solution.

“The evidence that time spent working was the most prominent sleep thief was overwhelming,” said Mathias Basner, MD, PhD, assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia, in a press release. “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.”

Dr. Basner and team studied 124,517 Americans older than 15 between 2003 and 2011. The patients completed a survey called ATUS — the American Time Use Survey. They reported their daily activities on a minute-by-minute basis. These researchers looked at variables like economic status, family structure, time use on weekdays and weekends and demographic factors like age.

Among the major findings were the following:

  • Short sleepers worked 1.55 more hours each workday and 1.86 more hours on weekends than normal sleepers.
  • Short sleepers spent more time traveling than normal sleepers, with most of the travel occurring around 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. — typical rush-hour periods.
  • People who started work at 6 a.m. got an average of six hours of sleep on workdays. Those who started work between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. slept for 7.29 hours on average.
  • Adults who worked multiple jobs were most likely to be short sleepers and 61 percent more likely to report sleeping six hours or less on weekdays than those without multiple jobs.
  • Those most likely to be short sleepers were male, ages 25 to 64, employed and with high income.
  • Short sleepers watched only four more minutes of TV each day than normal sleepers on average, but they started watching later in the day, which suggested they may be substituting TV for sleep. Morning grooming and socializing activities also consumed more time for short sleepers.

In an editorial about this study, Lauren Hale, PhD, of the Program in Public Health at the State University of New York, wrote "... we must respect the reality that many time-use allocation decisions are not factors over which people have total control, due to both structural and psychological barriers. This is especially true among those who have limited or lower levels of social status ... we must think deeply about the underlying structural and psychological factors that determine sleep patterns.”

The study and editorial were published in December in the journal Sleep.

The National Institute of Nursing Research and the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) funded the study. Study author Dr. David F. Dinges was compensated by the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, LLC, for serving as editor in chief of Sleep. Dr. Basner is a deputy editor for Sleep. Dr. Basner and Dr. Dinges recused themselves from all decisions related to Sleep manuscripts on which they had a conflict of interest.


Review Date: 
December 12, 2014
Last Updated:
March 10, 2015