New study identifies the type of shift work associated with the worst sleep

More than half of all people working regular night shifts have at least one sleep disorder, such as insomnia, sleep apnoea, or restless led syndrome, according to new research.

“Compared to working regular shifts during daytime hours, working other shift types is associated with a higher occurrence of disordered sleep, particularly in rotating and regular night shift work,” says Dr Marike Lancel, a researcher at GGZ Drenthe’s Mental Health Institute in the Netherlands, and senior author of the study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry.

“Of note, 51% of people working nights scored positive for at least one sleep disorder.”

According to Lancel, there is plenty of evidence that shift work reduces the quality of sleep. However, she adds that “little is known about the influence of different types of shifts on the prevalence of various sleep disorders, and how this may vary depending on demographic characteristics.”

To address this gap, the researchers recruited more than 37,000 participants who disclosed their shift work patterns: regular morning, evening, night, or switching between shifts.

Across the entire study, about a third of participants reported at least 1 sleep disorder, while 12.6% screened positive for 2 or more.

But working regular night shifts had the most debilitating effects on sleep. Half of regular night shift workers reported sleeping less than 6 hours within 24 hours, and 24% reported 2 or more sleep disorders.

The researchers also investigated whether demographic factors impacted sleep health. They found that while men slept fewer hours, sleep disorders were more common in women. Older participants also tended to sleep shorter hours, but most sleep disorders and their comorbidities were more prevalent those aged 30 and below.

“The effects of shift work on sleep are most prominent in young adults with a lower education,” says Lancel.

According to the study, the prevalence ratios of short sleep and one or more sleep disorders all increased about two-fold between the highest (academic) and lowest (elementary) education level.

The researchers say that their findings can provide crucial information for employers in professions where shift work is common and that “education on coping strategies may be especially important for young and/or lower educated shift workers.”

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