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The Best and Worst Jobs for Your Sleep

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/ May 7, 2021
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Whether you're a recent grad hunting for your first full-time gig or you're looking to switch careers, one of the most important factors to consider is how a job will impact your sleep. 

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society have determined that adults need at least seven hours of sleep per day to promote optimal health. 

Short sleep duration—less than seven hours—has been linked to a variety of adverse health outcomes, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, anxiety, and safety issues related to injuries and drowsy driving. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one-third of American adults get less than seven hours of sleep each night—and people in certain jobs get less sleep than others. 

It’s long been known that shift work and other work-related factors influence sleep duration and quality, which directly affect worker health and safety. People who hold jobs in production, health care, protective service, transportation, and material moving are more likely to be shift workers. 

The CDC took a closer look in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report at who, exactly, in those work categories is most affected by short sleep duration. They examined data in detail from 93 occupation groups in 29 states. 

The information was collected in the agency’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, an annual, random-digit-dialed telephone survey of non-institutionalized U.S. civilian residents at least 18 years old, to gather data on health-related risk behaviors, chronic illnesses and conditions, and use of health-related services.

Overall, the CDC found that the prevalence of short sleep duration ranged from 21.4% among air transportation workers to 58.2% among communications equipment workers. Mississippi had the highest percentage (26.8%) of workers employed in at least one of the five most sleep-deprived occupations. 

Those reporting the highest levels of inadequate sleep were Black Americans (48.5%), men (37.5%), people with some college education (40%), and those who were divorced, widowed, separated, or never married (39.5%).

To help you as you navigate the job market, we've put together a list of the best-rested and most sleep-deprived professions. 

Best jobs for sleep

People in the following jobs catch the most Z's:

  • Air transportation workers: Airline pilots and others in the air transportation industry frequently work different shifts and routinely cross time zones in their work. Yet only 21.4% of them say they don’t get enough sleep. This likely has to do with the Federal Aviation Administration’s requirement that pilots receive at least a 10-hour rest period before flight duty.
  • Religious workers: This line of work is apparently good for the soul—and for getting adequate rest, as only 22.4% of the people in religious work reported inadequate sleep.
  • Teachers and instructors: Despite the stresses of the profession, only 25.2% of the surveyed teachers reported getting inadequate sleep. 
  • Agricultural workers: Challenging physical labor and long hours require adequate rest to sustain the energy needed for these jobs. Only 30.2% of the surveyed people in this field reported not getting enough sleep.
  • Librarians, curators, and archivists: It would seem that working around books and collections is conducive to sleep, as only 30.3% of people in these fields reported getting inadequate sleep.
  • Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing: Sales reps mostly sleep well at night, as only 30.3% reported that they didn’t get enough sleep.

Worst jobs for sleep

People in these jobs are the most sleep-deprived:

  • Communications equipment operators: Front-desk clerks and switchboard operators, who frequently work shifts, are the most sleep-deprived people in the country with a whopping 58.2% reporting that they regularly get less than seven hours of sleep.
  • Rail transportation workers: Unlike air transportation employees, people in the rail industry don’t have FAA-mandated rest periods—making them one of the most sleep-deprived groups in the country with some 52.7% reporting they don’t get enough sleep.
  • Plant and systems operators: Nearly half (49.6%) of plant, reactor, and system operators surveyed reported that they get less than the seven hours of sleep per night needed to function normally. This is concerning for the general public given that power plant and reactor employees’ sleep deprivation could have dangerous consequences for large numbers of people.
  • Supervisors of production workers and food service workers: A survey by the global staffing firm Accountemps found that worry about work, feeling overwhelmed, co-worker issues, and stress about losing their jobs are among the problems keeping a hefty 48.9% of these folks up at night.
  • Firefighting and prevention workers: The CDC’s data show that 45.8% of firefighters don't get enough sleep. Without adequate sleep, these emergency responders can’t be fully alert and focused. Sleep deprivation is also linked to anxiety, depression, irritability, and impaired judgment that makes driving even more dangerous.
  • Extraction workers: The oil and gas extraction industry is not only inherently dangerous but 45.3% employed in the field report not getting enough sleep. Swing, rotating, and night shift schedules vary, and unexpected events during drilling and completing new wells lead to extended shifts. A CDC report on extraction workers’ sleep habits notes that fatigue can interfere with workers’ need to stay alert and ready to respond in critical situations.

Sleep and job performance

Sleep deprivation amplifies the stress you might experience at work. It can lead to burnout, which has a high price tag for you and your workplace. Good sleep is essential to bring your best to your job, whatever it might be. 

The bottom line: Don’t listen to anyone who tries to “sleep shame” you for getting the rest you need. You simply can’t give your best without a good night’s sleep. It’s good for you and your employer because it allows you to be more productive.

For more information on the connection between sleep and job performance, check out our article on how getting a good night's sleep can boost your career.

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