The effect of the work environment on future sleep disturbances: A systematic review

Abstract: Workers often attribute poor sleep to factors at work. Despite the large number of workers with sleep disturbances, there is a lack of consensus on the relationship between the work environment and sleep. The purpose of this systematic review therefore was to conduct a comprehensive evaluation. To this end, we employed standardized methods to systematically locate, review, and table the results of prospective or randomized studies of the impact of work factors on sleep disturbances. From the 7981 articles located in five data bases, 24 fulfilled our inclusion criteria and formed the base of the review including meta-analyses of the effect sizes. Results showed that the psychosocial work variables of social support at work, control, and organizational justice were related to fewer sleep disturbances, while high work demands, job strain, bullying, and effort-reward imbalance were related to more future sleep disturbances. Moreover, working a steady shift was associated with disturbances while exiting shift work was associated with less disturbed sleep. We conclude that psychosocial work factors and the scheduling of work have an impact on sleep disturbances and this might be utilized in the clinic as well as for planning work environments. Future research needs to employ better methodology and focus on underlying mechanisms.


Alex’s Notes: Work is a central part of our lives. Without it, we couldn’t sustain ourselves. Unfortunately, work stress is an important risk factor for poor sleep. There are many ways this can manifest itself. The demand-control theory proposes that an imbalance between the demands placed on the worker and that person’s decision control results in stress. A similar theory is the effort-reward model, whereby an imbalance between the effort to do the job and the reward it provides create stress. Outside of these models, work schedules and the physical work environment are potential areas of effect.

The current review explored these connections and concluded that social support at work, organization justice, and control over work was associated with fewer sleep disturbances. Conversely, the inverse was also true (i.e. decreased control over work and social problems such as bullying and exclusion were associated with increased levels of sleep disturbances). Working upwards of 55 hours per week was not related to poor sleep, whereas going over this amount was. Additionally, working with pesticides is related to REM sleep disorders.

Now, all the above are associations and thus reverse causality cannot be ruled out. That said, it seems prudent to work less than 55 hours per week in a job that provides social support, fairness, and lets you have some control over whatever you are doing.


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