NIOSH Research on Work Schedules and Work-related Sleep Loss

Posted on by Claire Caruso, PhD, RN; Luenda Charles, PhD; Tina Lawson, PhD; Akinori Nakata, PhD; Karl Sieber, PhD; Sudha Pandalai, MD, PhD; and Ted Hitchcock, PhD

Yesterday, in honor of National Sleep Awareness Week, we blogged about sleep and work and the risks to workers, employers, and the public when workers’ hours and shifts do not allow for adequate sleep.   This blog provides a brief overview of some of the work that NIOSH intramural scientists are carrying out to better understand these risks and ways to prevent them.

Nurses/Reproduction Issues/Shift Work

NIOSH studies are examining shift work and physical demands with respect to adverse pregnancy outcome among nurses, specifically the association between work schedule and risk of spontaneous abortion, preterm birth, and menstrual function.  This research was the first to look at shift work and pregnancy in U. S. nurses.  NIOSH researchers are collaborating with the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study, which is the largest, ongoing prospective study of nurses. Results have shown that an increased risk of several reproductive outcomes, including spontaneous abortion, early preterm birth, and menstrual cycle irregularities, are related to shift work, particularly working the night shift. In addition, results show independent effects on reproductive outcomes from long working hours.  The study hopes to establish a cohort of over 100,000 female nurses of reproductive age.  As this longitudinal study progresses, there will be increased opportunity to study the impact of occupational exposures on a wide variety of chronic disease outcomes, including cancers and heart disease.

Police/Sleep/Shiftwork/ Stress

A series of studies are being carried out to understand the connection between exposures to occupational stressors and health outcomes in police officers in Buffalo, New York. Early studies have already indicated that there are significant adverse health outcomes associated with sleep and shift work. One study found that the majority of officers reported feeling tired upon awakening (89.9%) and snoring (83.3%) (Charles et al, 2007a).  The prevalence of snoring was 26% higher in night shift workers compared to the other workers.  A 2009 published study found that officers who worked nights and either had less than 6 hours of sleep or worked more overtime had a greater risk of injury and metabolic syndrome compared to officers working the day shift.

Trucking/Manufacturing/White Collar Workers

Several studies examining large samples of workers have been published or are currently in progress. Information on driver fatigue and the quality, location, and length of sleep has been collected in a large national  survey of long-haul truck drivers.  Results from this survey are being used to determine the extent of sleep disorders (including sleep apnea) drivers experience and their relationship to health conditions and crashes. A series of studies examining long work hours have been published. In healthy daytime workers, emotional fatigue was associated with a decline of function and quantity of Natural Killer cells, a white blood cell that is part of our first line of defense against cancer and viruses (Nakata et al., 2011, JOEM). A study found that long work hours combined with short sleep (less than 6 hours/day) or insufficient sleep was associated with depression, injury, and poor health that are largely associated with sleep problems rather than work hours itself (Nakata, 2011, J Clin Psychiat; Nakata, 2011, J Sleep Res; Nakata, 2011, Int J Public Health).  Among shift workers, those with low social support at work had two times higher prevalence of insomnia than those with high support even after considering the effects of workload (Nakata et al., J Human Ergol, 2002).


NIOSH scientists are developing and evaluating tailored training programs for managers and workers in manufacturing, mining, nursing, retail, and trucking to inform them of the importance of sleep and the risks linked to insufficient sleep, shift work, and long work hours and strategies to prevent these risks.

  • NIOSH has developed a comprehensive online training program for nurses. The program includes a short video and 12 modules. The training program is currently being pilot tested in senior nursing students and registered nurses enrolled in nursing graduate courses.
  • For the trucking industry, NIOSH has developed two public service announcements to broadcast over the radio and two brochures to raise awareness of the risks of long work hours and shift work, as well as what actions they can take to help manage their risks. A website for trucking is also under development.
  • For the mining industry, NIOSH is developing two presentations on shift work and sleep for mining trainers. A helmet sticker has also been developed to help further raise awareness of this issue.
  • NIOSH developed a series of six 30 minute webinars to educate workers and managers in manufacturing and retail about sleep.

Risk Assessment

NIOSH scientists are exploring statistical and epidemiological issues to lay the groundwork for the quantitative risk assessment of work hours related to occupational illness and injury outcomes.  This approach will use work hour data that is collected over a period of time.  The project staff will examine how work hour patterns relate to a range of adverse outcomes, including, but not limited to, errors in the workplace.  This work is in its early stages, but is part of the effort to develop a quantitative risk assessment of work hours that can be used to refine policy and recommendations targeted at reducing illness and injury associated with long work hours, shift work, and other irregular work schedules.

As we continue to learn and develop more resources to help address the risks of shift work and long work hours and sleep, we will share these findings on our web page, the NIOSH topic page on Work Schedules: Shift Work and Long Work Hours.

Reference list and selected reading

—Claire Caruso, PhD, RN; Luenda Charles, PhD; Tina Lawson, PhD; Akinori Nakata, PhD; Karl Sieber, PhD; Sudha Pandalai MD, PhD; and Ted Hitchcock, PhD.

Drs. Caruso, Hitchcock an Nakata work in the  Organizational Science and Human Factors Branch  in the NIOSH Division of Applied Research and Technology

Dr. Pandalai is a medical officer in the Risk Evaluation Branch of NIOSH’s Education and Information Division.

Dr. Charles is an epidemiologist in the NIOSH Health Effects Laboratory Division.

Dr. Lawson is a research epidemiologist in the Industrywide Studies Branch of NIOSH’s Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations, and Field Studies

Dr.  Sieber is a Research Health Scientist with the Surveillance Branch of the NIOSH Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations, and Field Studies.

Posted on by Claire Caruso, PhD, RN; Luenda Charles, PhD; Tina Lawson, PhD; Akinori Nakata, PhD; Karl Sieber, PhD; Sudha Pandalai, MD, PhD; and Ted Hitchcock, PhD

28 comments on “NIOSH Research on Work Schedules and Work-related Sleep Loss”

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    Nice post. sleep is one thing most people don”t get these days and some jobs like truck drivers and police can really be dangerous. not to dangerous for people who work from home unless they leave the stove on or something they forget to do because of lack of sleep. i don”t know how to solve this problem but we all can use more sleep.

    Great blog!! Hoping it to be a good interactive tool for promoting adequate sleep in all working people.

    Nice post. sleep is one thing most people don”t get these days and some jobs like truck drivers and police can really be dangerous.

    I was told that lost sleep hours can’t be recovered… And the worst part is that it’s a snow ball, as time goes by it’s a cumulative process.

    Here on Long Island I had a friend who fell asleep behind the wheel.
    please be careful get rest to much overtime is also dangerous

    I agree with everyone here sleep is super important. I worked the night shift for about 9 months and always felt tried. Vitamin D did help though.

    Connie Blume
    Director of care

    Your post is very inspiring. I often see the majority of road accidents are often caused because of drowsiness, and this happens all over the world. Sleep is not determined by the length, but by its quality.

    for maximum work, they need to balance between rest and work. spend too much time to work will impact on the quality of a person. balance between rest, healthy diet and healthy lifestyle is necessary to achieve the quality of the work.

    Anybody behind a steering wheel who isn´t well rested is a potential accident in the making. The same for heavy machinery operators. The body, and the nervous system in particular, need enough sleep to function properly.

    I am very pleased that CDC and NIOSH are taking the lead in bringing awareness to the issues of shift work, long work hours, and occupational fatigue in Nursing. These are very important nursing workforce issues that MUST be addressed. Thank you!

    This is an advocacy video on the complex issues of nurse fatigue, long work hours, and shift work depicted in an animation featuring “Super Girl and Sleepy Nurse Sue.” Created by: John Repique, RN


    Thanks for this blog, this is explain one of the reason why can’t I get pregnant. No balance rest and work, pressure of long work ours give risk of spontaneous abortion. I have an article special about pregnancy in why can’t i get pregnant [a href=”’t-i-get-pregnant.htm]

    I am pleased that efforts are being made to address the issues of shift work and long work hours. Studies should also be conducted on workers in the industrial sector who have to monitor DCS screens for long periods, sometimes in excess of 12 hours.

    In Vietnam country, we have 1,5 hours to eat and sleep eat in lunch break. This is good health recovery to start working at the afternoon shift.

    Stress shows a great impact on the sleep. Managing the sleep and stress in your life is important. Regular exercise, joining in a support group, and make your bedroom neat, clean and dark. These things will help to reduce your stress.

    I also read somewhere drowsy driving due to sleep deprivation caused thousands of road accidents every year and an estimated 1,000 deaths.

    Great article! Thing is in today’s economy, a lot of employees are ran by fear. The fear of losing their job and not finding another one!

    So putting in more hours, taking less sleep and also worrying and stressing more about their job will lessen the sleep they get.

    I’m not sure there is a real solution for that??…

    From the people I know who work full time from home, they seem a lot happier! Maybe that should be a more looked at solution for many people.

    For every human being it’s necessary to take the required sleep or else it can show many adverse effects because of the sleeplessness. This is such a motivating article. It tells how sleep is important to a person. Thanks for the share. Keep doing.

    One way to reduce work related stress and partial sleep deprivation, which causes workplace accidents, is to get the right amount of sleep. A healthy adult should sleep about seven hours. Waking naturally is best but if you are on a schedule you can use a sleep calculator to utilize your available sleep hours properly. Another good idea is to get a set schedule if you can and establish a nightly routine to train your body to fall asleep quickly instead of staring at your clock all night.

    Sleep guidelines from the National Institutes of Health National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute have noted that individual sleep needs vary. Most adults need 7 to 8 hours sleep each day.

    In todays rat race, sleep is one of the major blows to a person’s health.
    We need to find work life balance to effectively regulate our lives.

    I didn’t have good sleep when I was working and the work was too stressful, it is difficult to sleep. I think if your work stresses you that much, it is time to leave it. You know compromising health will be the biggest regret anyone will do in his or her life. Sleep is important. Good thing there are people who are not disregarding this matter.

    Really nice write up. I have to say that working from home helps to curb this issue. Especially if you have a flexible schedule working from home. I tried evening hours, and then switched to morning hours just to get work out of the way. I find that my health is better since there is less stress. But finding work from home jobs seem to be difficult, there was one site that appears to be a place to find decent jobs from home. I’ve been working from home for almost ten years, and wouldn’t trade it.

    This is a very insightful article. Employers and people, in general, can do a lot to reduce external noise for example fit soundproof windows.

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Page last reviewed: April 26, 2021
Page last updated: April 26, 2021