What's The Best Work Schedule for Sleep?

There has been a lot of talk lately about regulations on the amount of consecutive work hours that members of certain professions should be allowed to work, but have you ever thought about the safety of their work hours?

A new study presented at the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies looked at the best shift start time to provide workers the most opportunity for sleep and to reduce on-the-job fatigue.

The research, conducted at the Sleep and Performance Research Center at Washington State University looked at the amount of sleep that different shift workers received before going to work.

Here’s what they found:

  • Not surprisingly, the best shifts for sleep start between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.  Workers on those shifts got the most sleep of any in the study, and were predicted to have the least on-the-job fatigue.  Of that span, the best time to start work, in terms of the amount of time you’ll typically spend sleeping, is 9 a.m.
  • The worst shift for sleep starts between 8 p.m. and midnight.  Workers on the late shift slept the least, and were characterized as consistently getting less than adequate sleep.  The most sleep deprived workers started their shifts at 11 p.m.
  • The most interesting finding was that workers on shifts starting after midnight showed a “relatively sudden decrease in predicted fatigue”.  Researchers explained this by saying that workers who started their shifts at 3 a.m. (for example) were able to sleep right before their shift started.  Workers starting their shifts at 11 p.m. were not able to sleep as well, because they were fighting against their bodies’ early evening circadian rhythms.

Researchers suggested that regulators looking at rules on sleep for professions like doctors, pilots or truckers, should not only look at the amount of total time worked, but also when the shifts start.