The 4 Most Sleep-Deprived Industries in America

Today, roughly half of American workers report having trouble sleeping. While this group includes people who experience difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep, many Americans simply haven’t made enough time in their schedules to get the daily recommended 8 hours of sleep. Regardless of the cause, adults who get less than 7 hours of sleep per night are considered sleep deprived and subject to the host of physical and behavioral impairments that accompany chronic sleep loss. Of course just obtaining the average number of hours of sleep is not enough. The quality and regularity of when you sleep may be even more important to your health, albeit more difficult to measure. So, while America’s sleep loss epidemic has not only helped expand waistlines and drive up rates of cardiovascular disease, it’s also provided companies with sleepy workers who must contend with deficits in cognition, communication, reaction time, and attention. But, which workers and industries are the most susceptible to sleep loss? Thanks to a comprehensive survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which looked at responses from over 200,000 American workers, we now know where to look.

Food Preparation & Service

This survey by the CDC found that a large portion of restaurant, fast food and food service workers are regularly operating on less than 7 hours of sleep. 41.4% of frontline workers, like cooks and those otherwise involved in food preparation and service, fall into this category. Likewise, 48.8% of supervisory staff were found to be sleep deprived. While some sleep deprivation is likely due to the prevalence of part-time work in this industry and, thus, workers having multiple jobs, the root cause of widespread sleep deprivation likely has more to do with the times at which most restaurants operate. As the vast majority of fine dining establishments open their doors for dinner, and require an extensive closing process after the final patron has left, many workers may find themselves clocking out in the early hours of the morning. The rise of 24-hour fast food restaurants has also contributed.

Public Safety & Healthcare

The public has come to expect emergency workers and first responders to be ready to help – anytime, day or night – deal with a crime, a fire or a medical emergency. This 24-hour safety net; however, comes at a cost. Owed largely to their irregular shifts, as well as the requirements and stresses of the job, law enforcement officials and firefighters show sleep deprivation rates of 39.8% and 45.8%, respectively. 40.4% of health technicians, responsible for lab work and assisting doctors and nurses, and 39.7% of medical professionals, including physicians, nurses, pharmacists and dentists, are getting fewer than 7 hours of sleep each day. It is important to note that this number fails to capture the extremely high sleep deprivation rates among young residents and interns, who make up the bulk of most hospitals’ physician pool. While most physicians end up working over 60 hours per week throughout their careers, the youngest doctors can endure 28 hour long shifts and frequently work well over 100 hours a week.

Transportation & Shipping

The millions of workers responsible for shuttling goods around the country also work around the clock. Shippers and movers, including delivery drivers, truckers, air freight workers and home movers, keep their deliveries on schedule at the expense of healthy sleep, with 40.5% of them suffering from sleep deprivation. Supervisory staff in this industry are even more likely to miss out on rest, with a rate of 43.3%. Support staff suffer as well, with 54% of mechanics, traffic control workers and waterway attendants living and working with chronic sleep loss. Railroad workers, responsible for transporting both goods and people, are among the most sleep deprived workers in the country, with 52.7% of them reporting that they sleep less than 7 hours each day. Recently, regulations regarding sleep and scheduling in the rail industry have been relaxed, putting even more workers at risk of sleep loss. There are some bright spots, however; thanks, in part, to updated FAA regulations, only 21% of airline industry workers have difficulty getting adequate sleep.

Raw Materials & Infrastructure

The extraction industry provides the raw materials, including oil and minerals, needed to keep the economy ticking. Drillers and miners, who labor in worksites that operate 24 hours a day and are often scheduled for irregular shifts, report a sleep deprivation rate of 45.3%. 44% of the metal workers who refine some of these raw materials and prepare them for use, and who also often work night and split shifts, are sleep deprived. Plant and systems operators, who ensure that a variety of manufacturing and chemical processes run safely while converting raw materials into finished goods, are among the most likely to be drowsy on the job, at 54%. The most sleep deprived group of workers in America are operators of communications equipment, with 58.2% of those working America’s switchboards, radios and reception desks hurting for more sleep.

The Common Thread

Shift scheduling is the common thread that connects America’s most sleep deprived professions. People who work irregular shifts, those straying from the standard 9-5 schedule, are the most likely to suffer from sleep deprivation. In our 24 hour economy, businesses in these industries are either obliged to provide their services at all hours or would incur significant cost if they were to idle their worksites at night. While the pace of productivity in America doesn’t appear to be slowing, many innovative employers are beginning to address the increased risk for accidents, errors and health concerns caused by poor sleep. Remedies run the gamut from sleep-optimizing schedules to onsite napping facilities, to comprehensive sleep health programs designed to address sleep problems and improve the cognition of workers.

Take Action

Learn more about our solution to sleep deprivation and what your company can do to protect its workers.