We all need it, even crave it, but many of us find it difficult to get the recommended amount for our health: it is sleep. Healthy People 2020, which outlines the national health goals for the next decade, recommends that adults get 7 or more hours of sleep each day. After reviewing the evidence, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the Sleep Research Society, the National Sleep Foundation, and the American Thoracic Society all conclude most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep each day for optimum health. For some people, however, long hours or shift work—working during nighttime hours—make getting adequate sleep regularly difficult. As part of its long-standing commitment to reducing potential health and safety risks associated with demanding work hours, NIOSH studies the factors that contribute to inadequate sleep among workers and how to address them in the context of work schedules.

By organizing work schedules to allow workers enough time for adequate sleep, both employers and workers benefit, according to a recent NIOSH literature review published in the Journal of Women’s Health. Numerous scientific studies link adequate sleep to mental health, weight control, safety, and a stronger immune system. Under its Research to Practice, or r2p, initiative, NIOSH develops training and other materials for workers and employers in various industries to reduce the risks from inadequate sleep. These materials include a comprehensive online course for nurses, who often must work shift hours, and training for emergency responders on reducing risks associated with long work hours (see links below).

Work and personal demands may prevent some workers from getting enough sleep. Working women, in particular, may have jobs that contribute to inadequate sleep, the review found. In the United States, an estimated 12% to 28% of working women are on various shift-work schedules, and about 12% work more than 48 hours per week. Almost 29% of working women in the United States reported sleeping 6 or fewer hours per day, according to 2004-2007 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health Interview Survey.

Studies show that inadequate sleep and disruption to circadian rhythms from shift work and long work hours are associated with many health and safety risks, including premature death, obesity, vehicle crashes, worker errors, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and negative reproductive outcomes. Fatigue and poor mood from sleep deprivation can also lead to less quality time with family and friends. In addition, fatigue-associated errors, which could have serious consequences, can occur. To help prevent risks associated with inadequate sleep, the NIOSH website provides free materials to help employers to organize work and work schedules and workers to organize their personal lives for adequate sleep.

More information is available:

Reducing Risks to Women Linked to Shift Work, Long Work Hours, and Related Workplace Sleep and Fatigue Issues

Work Schedules: Shift Work and Long Hours

Work Organization and Stress-Related Disorders

NIOSH Training for Nurses on Shift Work and Long Work Hours

Interim NIOSH Training for Emergency Responders: Reducing Risks Associated with Long Work Hours

Total Worker Health®

Healthy People 2020 Sleep Health