American workforce is seriously sleep-deprived, CDC reports

Feeling a little sleepy? You’re not alone. According to a report this week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30% of American workers are sleep-deprived – and that has big consequences for public health.

First, let’s take a closer look at the numbers. Three out of 10 working adults reported getting six or fewer hours of shut-eye per night, according to data from the 2010 National Health Interview Survey. That translates to about 40.6 million people.

The burden wasn’t felt equally across the board. Here’s how sleepiness was distributed:

* 29% of day-shift workers got fewer than six hours’ sleep, as did 44% of those who worked the night shift.

* 32% of workers ages 30 to 64 had “short sleep duration,” compared with only 27% of younger workers and 22% of older workers.

* Workers classified as “white” or “Hispanic” got the most sleep, with only 29% getting by on six hours or less per night. Blacks got the least sleep (39% had short sleep duration), followed by workers of “other races” (35%) and Asians (33%).

* Marital status may play a role in shut-eye: 28% of never-married workers and 29% of currently married workers reported insufficient sleep, versus 36% of workers who were divorced, separated or widowed.

* 34% of workers with only a high school diploma reported getting no more than six hours of sleep per night, more than the 29% of high school dropouts and 27% of college graduates who were in the same boat.

This should hardly come as a shock, but the analysis confirmed that the more you work, the less time you have available for slumber. Among those who clocked in for more than 40 hours each week, 36% weren’t able to average more than six hours of sleep per night, compared with only 28% of those with lighter workloads. Additionally, 37% of people who worked more than one job had short sleep duration, versus 29% of those with only one job.

The analysis was performed by Dr. Sara E. Luckhaupt of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, part of the CDC. It was published in Thursday’s edition of the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. You can read the full report here.

Sleep deprivation is more than a nuisance, Luckhaupt warned. A 2006 report from the National Academies Press reported that 20% of vehicle crashes can be traced to drowsy drivers. From a medical point of view, getting fewer than six hours of sleep per night can increase one’s risk for cardiovascular disease and obesity. The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of sleep per night for healthy adults.

For more information on sleep and sleep disorders, check out this site from the CDC. You can explore a range of sleep-related topics on the NSF website too.

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