Surprising Findings: Too Few Job Demands Can Harm Sleep Quality

Bad Sleep Woman Upset

Sleep is a vital aspect of overall health and well-being. It allows the body and mind to rest and repair and helps to regulate mood, memory, and physical and cognitive function. The recommended amount of sleep varies by age, but adults generally need 7-9 hours per night. Lack of sleep or poor sleep quality can have negative effects on health, including increased risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and mental health issues.

According to new research, moderate job demands and a sense of control over working conditions are key factors in predicting optimal sleep health.

Contrary to popular belief, a new study from researchers at the University of South Florida (USF) suggests that the relationship between work demands and sleep quality is more complex. It was previously thought that those with the most demanding jobs would have the most difficulty sleeping, but the study found that moderate job demands and a sense of control over working conditions are important factors in predicting optimal sleep health.

Soomi Lee

Soomi Lee, University of South Florida. Credit: University of South Florida

According to the study, having too few job demands can be just as disruptive to sleep as having too many. The research shows that moderate job demands are actually the best predictor of optimal sleep health and they can lead to a more regular sleep schedule and a shorter time to fall asleep. This suggests that a balance of work demands is important for good sleep quality.

An additional factor is how much control individuals have over their working conditions. In the simplest terms, the more control they enjoy, the better their chances of sleeping well.

“The previous knowledge that demanding work degrades sleep may be overly simplistic,” said Soomi Lee, an assistant professor in the USF College of Behavioral and Community Sciences School of Aging Studies who served as a senior author on the paper. “The findings move beyond the previous narrative that job demands should be minimized as much as possible to protect workers’ health.”

Monica Nelson, a doctoral candidate in the School of Aging Studies, led the study. Their findings were recently published in the journal Sleep Health.

The study was funded by the National Institute on Aging and based on multi-site and interdisciplinary collaborations, including Tammy D. Allen, a distinguished professor in the USF College of Arts and Sciences Department of Psychology.

Monica Nelson

Monica Nelson, University of South Florida. Credit: University of South Florida

The researchers acknowledge that while their findings might initially seem counterintuitive, they suggest that both too few and too many job demands may be related to work disengagement or excessive stress – both of which can disrupt sleep.

In their study, the researchers note that poor sleep has been linked to numerous health problems, including cardiovascular disease, dementia, and early death. Therefore, identifying and addressing factors that contribute to poor sleep – including job-related demands – can be important to improving overall health and warding off issues down the road.

“Past research suggests you need moderate exposure to stress to perform better,” Nelson said. “We were motivated by this concept and examined whether sleep health would have a sweet spot with moderate exposure to job demands.”

The researchers analyzed data from a previous study of nearly 3,000 adults with an average age of 48 years old, split nearly evenly between men and women. About half of the participants possessed at least a four-year college degree.

The study participants were asked about five aspects of their jobs: intensity, role conflict, work overload, time pressure, and interruptions.

They also responded to questions about five aspects of their sleep patterns: regularity, satisfaction/quality, daytime alertness, efficiency, and duration.

Other key findings from the study:

  • People sleep best if they have moderate job demands and adequate control over their work. This means providing input about their work tasks, making decisions about their work environment, and learning new things at work.
  • The study’s findings can raise awareness of the job demands-job control balance, helping employers and employees find appropriate work environments that lead to improved sleep health for employees.

“Based on these findings, it will be important to examine whether and how changes over time in job demands and control are associated with changes in sleep health,” Lee said.

Reference: “Goldilocks at work: Just the right amount of job demands may be needed for your sleep health” by Monica E. Nelson, MA, Soomi Lee, Ph.D., Tammy D. Allen, Ph.D., Orfeu M. Buxton, Ph.D., David M. Almeida, Ph.D. and Ross Andel, Ph.D., 10 November 2022, Sleep Health.
DOI: 10.1016/j.sleh.2022.09.002

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