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A third of working Americans are sleep deprived, Ball State study says

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Nearly a third of working Americans are not getting enough sleep, and the problem is getting worse by the year, according to a study by Ball State University that was posted in the Journal of Community Health Monday.

Ball State researchers analyzed 150,000 working American adults from 2010 to 2018 and found the prevalence of inadequate sleep — seven hours or less — increased from 30.9% in 2010 to 35.6% in 2018.

“Inadequate sleep is associated with mild to severe physical and mental health problems, injury, loss of productivity, and premature mortality,” said Jagdish Khubchandani, the study’s lead author and a health science professor at Ball State. “This is a significant finding because the U.S. is currently witnessing high rates of chronic diseases across all ages, and many of these diseases are related to sleep problems.”

The study found almost no difference in the percentage of men (35.5%) and women (35.8%) who reported getting inadequate sleep.

However, there were substantial differences in the prevalence of inadequate sleep across race. From 2010-2018, the numbers jumped from 29.2 to 34.1% for whites, 40.6 to 46.5% for African-Americans, 29.5 to 35.3% for Asians, and 35.2 to 45.2% for multiracial adults.

In 2018, the professions with the highest levels of poor sleep are those in the police and military (50%), health care support occupations (45%), transport and material moving (41%), and production occupations (41%).

“There is no definitive cause found for these trends in sleep duration in working American population,” Khubchandani said. “We see the workplace is changing as Americans work longer hours, and there is greater access and use of technology and electronic devices, which tend to keep people up at night. Add to this the progressive escalation in workplace stress in the United States, and the rising prevalence of multiple chronic conditions could be related to short sleep duration in working American adults.”

Khubchandani believes that employers should take steps to make sure their workers are getting enough rest.

“Employers have a major responsibility and should use health promotion strategies to ensure that workers who struggle with sleep problems are assisted,” he said. “We all suffer when our bus and truck drivers, doctors, and nurses are sleep deprived.”

The study’s lead author also warned that many over-the-counter medications can have side effects, including worsening of insomnia when inappropriately prescribed or used. Even in primary care, insomnia is frequently misreported, ignored, or the treatment could be suboptimal, despite access to standard treatment interventions, he said.

“There is a need for increasing awareness and improving the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders, and there needs to be emphasis on public education, training for health professionals, and monitoring,” said Khubchandani.

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