Sleep, Work, and Occupational Stress

Torbjörn Åkerstedt and Göran Kecklund

in The Oxford Handbook of Sleep and Sleep Disorders

Published in print March 2012 | ISBN: 9780195376203
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

Sleep, Work, and Occupational Stress

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  • Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Organizational Psychology



Work is a necessity of life and has many positive effects on human well-being, but some aspects may also be a threat to well-being. The present chapter has focused on some of the factors that may constitute an impediment to sleep—stress, work hours, and socioeconomic group. With regard to stress there is a large number of studies that link self-reported stress to self-reports of impaired sleep. Prospective studies are surprisingly rare but essentially support this link, as do the even rarer polysomnographical studies of real-life stress. Some loss of sleep efficiency and increase of sleep latency and time awake are seen in groups on sick leave for stress-related fatigue (burnout) where the impairment is pronounced. A key link between stress and impaired sleep seems to be the effort expended at work and the inability to turn off thoughts of work (“rumination”) around bedtime. It is also suggested that the physiological effects of sleep loss are very similar to those characteristic of stress, and the metabolic diseases linked to stress seem to have a similarly strong link to disturbed sleep. A second major work-related cause of impaired sleep is irregular work hours. In particular, night and early morning work truncate sleep and result in high levels of fatigue/sleepiness during work and leisure. The mechanism mainly involves work during the circadian low and sleep during the circadian high. The first causes high sleepiness/fatigue, and the second terminates sleep prematurely, adding to sleepiness/fatigue. Night work and early morning work is also a major cause of road accidents in particular, but also other types of accidents. The long-term effects of night work also include cardiovascular and gastrointestinal disease. A third work-related factor behind poor sleep seems to be socioeconomic group. On the whole, blue-collar workers report more disturbed sleep than do white-collar workers. The active component in the causation has not been clearly identified, but physical work load, financial strain, and a less positive situation in life may contribute. Being employed or not has not been extensively researched, but results indicate more sleep problems than in those unemployed.

Keywords: sleep; stress; work; physical work load; socioeconomic group; salary; education; shift work

Article.  15072 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Clinical Psychology ; Organizational Psychology

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