Which profession does best when it comes to sleep quality?
The working day certainly isn’t what it used to be.
Several factors have caused our culture of work to dramatically evolve in recent decades: the growing economy increasing demand for labour and services along with the development of mobile technology to name just a couple.
The result is that many roles require us to be ‘on the clock’ for longer; and if our workloads don’t necessitate us to stay behind at work beyond ‘normal’ trading hours, we’ll certainly conduct correspondence from our devices during downtime.
So for a great many, switching off after work has become much harder to do. And quality of sleep is perhaps the biggest casualty of this trend.
Furthermore, this isn’t just the case for those with ‘shift work sleep disorder’, working in roles where rotating working hours are the norm. Even those who work daytime hours may find that stress related to a burgeoning workload or work duties leaking into their personal downtime negatively impacts their ability to get a good night’s sleep.
Consequently, this blurring of boundaries between work and life isn’t conducive to health in general either; lack of good quality, consistent sleep has been widely linked to several conditions including depression, high blood pressure, obesity and type-2 diabetes.
A more positive development of recent times is that we’re now better able than we ever have been to monitor our sleep patterns (and see where we might be going wrong).Some of the best sleep tracker applications are accessible on just about any phone, and can provide a good degree of insight into our habits.
In preparation for National Bed Month last month, we wanted to find out more about the ways different professions can affect sleep, and what measures are available to those whose job role might present an obstacle to this.
So we decided to put together something of an informal study.
Utilising Fullpower’s sleep tracker app Motion X 24/7, we canvassed the sleeping habits of six individuals in very different professions over the course of one week.
We wanted to get an even spread of those working shifts and regular daytime hours, those working indoors and out, and those in lesser and higher pressure environments.
Our intention was to gauge the challenges those in each area face, how important sleep is to perform their respective occupational duties, and what (if any) measures or tricks they use to help them wind down and get a good night’s sleep.
We decided on a test group consisting of the following:
a junior doctor
a landscape gardener
a police officer
a school teacher
and a university student
Using sound and motion detection, the Motion X app measures the duration of sleep, how much of this is light sleep (stage one and two) and deep sleep (stage three and REM), and how much time in bed is spent awake.
This is then used to give a ‘sleep efficiency’ percentage, and an overall sleep score using an algorithm.
Here are the results we recorded for each:
Long working hours evidenced by late bedtimes and intermittent early rise times.
Shortest available window for healthy sleep duration.
High light sleep to deep sleep ratio could be indicative of stress related to work.
Overall sleep score is the lowest of the five respondents.
These results are what one might expect of someone working in the chef profession.
When interviewed the respondent stated that work-related stress frequently affected their ability to sleep. The chef also stated how important it was for them to be well-rested when in work, as the role necessitated the use of hazardous equipment.
With three years’ experience in the job, the respondent said that they developed a technique of listening to comedy shows they knew off-by-heart to help them drift off when in bed.
The junior doctor
The sleep results for the doctor were recorded under different conditions to those of our other respondents. Consequently, we chose not to include them in the comparison table below, but the results are still nonetheless interesting when viewed in isolation.
The high efficiency score indicates that they had little trouble getting to sleep when the opportunity to do so arose; but the low overall sleep score reflects the short average sleep duration.
The landscape gardener
Daylight working hours evidenced by regular sleep pattern.
This respondent was the deepest sleeper, with the highest deep sleep to light sleep ratio.
Second highest sleep score of the six respondents.
When interviewed the respondent told us that they had recently made the switch from shift work in a restaurant to starting up their own gardening business.
This could go some way to explaining why they still display traits of a night owl (staying up until after midnight on some nights) while making the transition to a lark (getting up early on the majority of days).
The change in nature of work has, according to the respondent, led to a reduction in stress levels. They admitted to finding sleeping much easier now that they perform work which is based outdoors and physically demanding.
Despite rotating shifts, the police officer has the longest sleep duration of the test pool.
Deep sleep to light sleep ratio is close to that of the gardener.
Highest scorer for both sleep efficiency and overall sleep score.
Their winding-down routine consisted of walking the dog and watching television until feeling tired.
Before undertaking this study, we didn’t expect the police officer to produce the best scores. But with 11 years experience on the force, this respondent has been able to develop ways to isolate work-related stress and give their adrenaline levels a chance to subside before bed.
However, the respondent told us that incidents at work and upcoming jobs do still have an effect during down time. While stressful situations are a cornerstone of this line of work, we would speculate that like our gardener respondent, the physically demanding nature of the police officer’s duties plays an important role in helping them to sleep better.
The school teacher
Closer gap between light and deep sleep durations for this respondent.
Sleep score slightly lower than that of the gardener and police officer as a result.
Kept the most consistent sleeping hours of all six respondents, resting early and rising early.
Towards the middle of the week, light sleep durations rose and overtook deep sleep durations, which could be indicative of the stress of work.
Our teacher respondent has been working in this role for eight years, experience which is evident in their lark characteristics.
Seemingly aware of their sleeping habits, the teacher professed that routine was key to maintaining a healthy sleep pattern. But the stresses of work are perhaps evident in their light to deep sleep ratio and comparatively long time awake.
The university student
Longest average time awake duration of the six respondents.
Fluctuating sleep efficiency and sleep scores over the course of the week.
Traits consistent with a night owl, consistently going to bed after midnight.
In interview, the student respondent told us they were undertaking a strenuous period of study due to impending exams, which goes some way to explaining their chaotic sleep pattern; studying for exams can cause an unpredictable workload and understandably, feelings of stress. This is certainly evidenced in their longer average time spent awake.
The student told us that banning electronics before bed and ensuring they were sleeping in darkness helped. But it’s understandable that during a period of intense study and late nights, the effects caused by being in constant contact with a computer screen may to an extent be unavoidable.
The findings might not serve as a comprehensive guide to the sleeping habits of your typical person in each profession, but they do give an indication of the challenges apparent in each role.
Judging by these readings, it seems that the doctor and chef are the most susceptible to problems related to chaotic sleep patterns. Upon first glance, one might put this down to their relative inexperience of shift work when compared to the police officer.
However, upon closer inspection of bed and rise times, it seems that during the week in question the police officer was afforded longer gaps between shifts than both the chef and the doctor; and this may have enabled them to achieve respectable sleep durations more consistently.
The police officer only retired to bed after 1am on one occasion: whereas our chef did so on five; and our junior doctor on six.
The gardener and police officer were the two respondents who kept their bedtimes closest to midnight and durations most consistently within the 7-9 hour region; and thereby had the highest overall scores. This reaffirms the notion that observing the circadian clock is conducive to good sleep health.
The student’s results (along with the chef’s) suggest that a looser, more unpredictable routine can have a negative impact on sleep health.
But, even though they had the most regimented routine, the teacher’s results suggest that the more time spent in bed doesn’t necessarily add up to the healthiest night’s sleep; as well as getting to bed at a reasonable hour, taking measures to reduce stress beforehand plays a crucial role in sleep health too.
About the author
Based in the UK, Dr Wayne Osborne has been working in general practice since 2002. He is head practitioner at Treated.com, and you can find a more in-depth analysis of the above study on his weekly blog.