Sleep, work and health

Two recent studies shed new light on how sleep and work are linked, with major consequences for worker well-being. Interestingly, these studies take very different perspectives: one is by medical researchers, the other by management researchers. But they agree on one thing: if you don’t get enough quality sleep, your health and possibly that of your co-workers is at risk.

The first study, conducted by researchers at Harvard’s School of Public Health, is a large scale study of type-2 diabetes among women. It adds to other research showing how shift work can increase the risks of cancer and heart disease. In this study, working rotating shifts over several years or more had greatly increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The women studied were nurses, which says something about the unintended human cost of providing 24/7 healthcare, although there are alternatives to rotating shifts.

The second study, from the October 2011 issue of the Academy of Management Journal, looks at the effects of sleep deprivation on workplace deviance. What’s significant is the publication of an article on this topic in a leading management journal, given that sleep has received scant attention from organizational researchers. If you get 6 or fewer hours sleep you are sleep deprived. In this study, sleep deprivation was related to reduced self-control (particularly, being able to regulate your emotions) and increased hostility. As the study’s authors point out, the connection between sleep deprivation and reduced self-control can have serious implications in terms of safety, anti-social behaviours, deviance, and customer service.

Both studies involved groups of nurses, which should encourage healthcare employers to take a much closer look at the implications of work schedules and hours on individuals and teams.