People who are out of work are more likely to experience too much sleep, too little sleep, and disturbed sleep, according to findings published in the journal Economics and Human Biology. These problematic sleep outcomes are especially likely to afflict those experiencing prolonged unemployment.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment has increased drastically, underscoring the need for further study on the mental and physical health impacts of joblessness. People who are unemployed tend to experience worse health, and one contributing factor may be poor sleep. But the relationship between sleep and unemployment is unclear. Some studies suggest that jobless individuals get less sleep compared to people who work, while other studies suggest they get more sleep.
Researchers David G. Blanchflower and Alex Bryson aimed to re-explore the link between unemployment and sleep while considering several sleep-related outcomes — sleep duration, short sleep, long sleep, insufficient sleep, and disturbed sleep. They also distinguished between several types of unemployment — short-term unemployment (less than one year), long-term unemployment (one year or more), and being unable to work.
Blanchflower and Bryson analyzed data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey, a phone survey of U.S. residents conducted by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). The survey questioned participants about their health-related risk behaviors, including their sleep habits. The researchers focused on data collected between 2006 to 2019, which included 2.5 million respondents.
Participants were asked to indicate the amount of sleep they typically get within a day. At every survey year, the average response fluctuated close to 7 hours of sleep per day, for an average of 6.98 across all survey years. While most respondents (61.3%) said they got between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per day, 35.2% were classified as short sleepers, getting 6 or fewer hours of sleep. A much smaller percentage (3.5%) were long sleepers, getting 10 or more hours per day.
The findings revealed that, on average, those who were unemployed slept only a small amount more than workers did — while workers slept 6.87 hours per day, the short-term unemployed slept 6.99 hours, and the long-term unemployed slept 6.91 hours. However, those who were unemployed were more likely than workers to be classified as short sleepers or long sleepers, and these differences were more pronounced among those experiencing prolonged unemployment.
While 37.3% of people who were working got under 7 hours of sleep, 37.8% of the short-term unemployed and 42.3% of the long-term unemployed did. Further, 1.9% of those with jobs were getting over 10 hours of sleep, compared to 5% of the short-term unemployed and 6% of the long-term unemployed. Half of those who identified as “unable to work” were short sleepers, and 9% were long sleepers.
When participants were asked how often in the past month they felt they did not get enough sleep, those experiencing prolonged unemployment reported more days of insufficient sleep compared to the employed. When asked how often they had trouble falling asleep or staying asleep in the past two weeks, the short-term unemployed, long-term unemployed, and the unable to work groups all struggled more compared to the employed.
Overall, the findings offer evidence that unemployment can negatively impact sleep, especially among those who are unemployed for more than a year and those who are unable to work. Since the Great Recession of 2007-2009, prolonged unemployment is becoming more common in the United States — a concern given that poor sleep is linked to a higher likelihood of disease or death. Poor sleeping habits may also limit a person’s ability to look for and secure a job, leading Blanchflower and Bryson to suggest that sleep issues may potentially drive people to unemployment, or drive those who are unemployed toward being unable to work.
The study, “Unemployment and sleep: evidence from the United States and Europe”, was authored by David G. Blanchflower and Alex Bryson.