The Weird Way Work Boredom Can Affect Your Sleep

Close-up shot of a man sleeping between containers

The findings of a newly released study point to one thing we already know: If you’re stressed at work, your sleep is going to suffer. What about those who work a job with very few demands? Their sleep might not be as restful as of the workday is – and that’s news we haven’t heard before. Let’s dive into the study.

What Did the Study Look At?

It analyzed mostly middle-aged workers in the U.S. The researchers zoned in on five specific aspects of job demands: intensity, role conflict, work overload, time pressure, and interruptions. Then, researchers considered the sleep patterns of the employees. That’s where they measured regularity, satisfaction/quality, daytime alertness, efficiency, and duration.

How did researchers analyze their job demands? Participants rated on a 1-5 scale questions about whether people at work make demands from them, whether they find their work hard to do, if they feel work overload, if they deal with deadline pressures and whether they felt they had enough time to complete all their tasks, how many interruptions they experienced, and more. Researchers also tied in questions about job control, and analyzed information about the participant’s sociodemographic and health status.

Why Are Low-Demand Jobs Not the Best for Sleep?

Research noted several possibilities. One being workers with low job demands can have work schedules that are disruptive to regular sleep schedules. They also point to the “job demands-resources theory,” which corresponds low demand jobs with boredom.

“For sleep efficiency, the time needed to fall asleep at night could be influenced by how much restoration is needed and whether rumination is occurring,” researchers noted in the study. “For example, having too few job demands may reflect a low intellectual engagement at work and limit the need for the restorative role of sleep.”

Why else could a low-demand job impact sleep? Researchers note “work disengagement” or “excessive stress” are both things that can disrupt sleep, meaning overly demanding jobs, or those on the other end of the spectrum can make for lower quality Z’s at night.

What Researchers Found: Everything in Moderation

Some stress is beneficial to our sleep. In fact, in part of the discussion portion of the study researchers said, “a moderate amount of stressor exposure is associated with optimal sleep.”

They concluded, “tailoring the work environment by assigning not too high and not too low job demands can assure that the workplace provides a fitting level of responsibilities that benefit employee sleep health.”

This is admittedly easier said than done – if you’re like most people, you may not have a ton of control over your regular workload. However, it doesn’t mean you’re doomed to bad sleep forever – more on that below.

How Can You Improve Your Sleep?

Monica Nelson, NIH/NIA NRSA Predoctoral Fellow who was a researcher on the study, had some tips to offer to Sleepopolis readers.

“Many people don’t fully recognize the negative impact of insufficient or poor-quality sleep on our daily functioning,” she said. “I would suggest to prioritize sleep in daily life. Because we’re all busy, often, sleep is compromised.”

She points to these suggestions:

  • keeping a regular bedtime routine (regardless if it’s a work night or weekend)
  • doing moderate-level exercise, but avoiding it around bedtime
  • cutting back on coffee and caffeinated drinks in the late afternoon
  • avoiding electronics in your bedroom

Lastly, Nelson points to the importance of being exposed to the sun during the day.

“Exposure to sunlight during the day, as well as darkness at night, helps to maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle,” she told Sleepopolis. She explained the circadian rhythm in our brain is affected by light exposure, adding, “If you don’t get bright light during daytime, your brain may not clearly recognize when it is day and night.”

Molly Nodurft

Molly Nodurft

Molly Nodurft is a journalist of 12 years and freelance writer who is a health nerd that loves to write (and read) about sleep, exercise, clean eating, red light therapy and sustainable living.

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