Long working hours and insufficient sleep


perspectives and perils

Rest is very important in life. We must not ignore this statement. Christians believe that even God rested after His work of creation. Genesis 2: 2 – “And on the seventh day, God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.” Some weeks ago, I attended church service and before the minister of God started preaching, he made reference to the need to rest. Aside his ministerial calling, this gentleman is a very high level management executive of an important institution in the country. The Scripture he mentioned was Mark 6:31, part of which read: “And he (Jesus) said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while…”

We undertake many activities day in and day out. We pursue work-related ventures, do domestic and energy exerting chores, carry out and oversee church-related matters, travel for various reasons, take academic and professional programmes, and engage in sports and exercises. Some of these activities sap a lot of mental and physical energy, and place strain or stress on human beings. In fact, work places a burden on us.

World Health Organisation/International Labour Organisation joint estimates

WHO/ILO Joint Estimates of the Work-related Burden of Disease and Injury, 2000–2016 made these global observations:

“Exposure to long working hours: stroke. It is estimated that globally in 2016, 398 306 deaths and 12.60 million DALYs as a result of stroke were attributable to exposure to long working hours (≥ 55 hours per week). Of the total global burden of stroke, 6.9 percent (398,306/5,747,289) of stroke deaths and 9.3 percent (12.6 million/135.9 million) of stroke DALYs are attributable to exposure to long working hours…”

“Exposure to long working hours: Ischaemic heart disease. It is estimated that globally in 2016, 346,618 deaths and 10.66 million DALYs as a result of ischaemic heart disease were attributable to exposure to long working hours (≥ 55 hours per week). Of the total envelope of global burden of ischaemic heart disease, 3.7 percent (346,618/9,401,800; Annex 1) of deaths and 5.3 percent (10.66 million/202.8 million) of DALYs were attributable to exposure to long working hours…”

**DALYs refers to disability adjusted life years

**Ischaemic heart disease refers to damage or disease in the heart’s major blood vessels. The common cause has been noted to be an accumulation of plague which results in limiting blood flow to the heart.

Other professional views

On the part of Dr. Maria Neira, Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health at the World Health Organisation, “Working 55 hours or more a week is a serious health hazard”. She called on employees, employers and governments to realise that long working hours can lead to premature death.

According to Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General: “Many businesses have been forced to scale back or shut down operations to save money, and people who are still on the payroll end up working longer hours. No job is worth the risk of stroke or heart disease”.

Dr. Kojo Cobba Essel (a medical doctor, and an ISSA certified in exercise therapy, fitness, nutrition and corrective exercise) had this to say in his article, ‘Show me your friends and I will show you your health span’, published on August 27, 2022 in The Weekly Spectator – Thought for the Week – Lack of sleep may predispose you to many diseases including STROKE. Jump into bed an hour earlier and sleep a stroke away”.

Some few inferences from the WHO/ILO report show that they consider working for 55 hours a week or more long working hours. Also, there are dangers in working for these long hours. Lastly, the resulting perils are deaths, stroke and some heart diseases. The mentioning of DALYs in the report is not pleasant.

According to the WHO/ILO Joint Estimates, the findings “can be used for global monitoring of exposure to occupational risk factors and work-related burden of disease and injury; and to identify, plan, cost, implement and evaluate actions to effectively prevent exposure to occupational risk factors and their associated disease and injury burdens”.

Personally, I think individuals, professionals, organisations and employers must reflect on the findings and be very mindful about working for long hours, the health-related risk factors, and handle them appropriately.

Why people work for long hours and deprive themselves of adequate sleep

We are living in a very competitive environment of work and business. Survival, profitability and growth are key. Inflation is very high. Cost of living has skyrocketed. It is known that things are getting tougher and necessitating long hours of working.

Even before these difficult times, employees were working for long hours, and deprived themselves of adequate rest.

Various reasons can be assigned and justified for the above mentioned behaviour.

  • Workers may work for extended period to meet targets set by Management
  • A company may want to maintain and increase their market share.
  • To ensure survival and growth in challenging environment.
  • To break even, make profit or increase profit significantly.
  • To win corporate awards.
  • To improve corporate reputation.
  • To attain international/world-class status.
  • To deliver on promises.
  • To meet manufacturing or service standards.
  • To rock shoulders with industrial giants.
  • To justify request or demand for improvement in working conditions.
  • To escape lay-offs or retrenchment.
  • To avoid queries or criticisms.
  • To get promotion or career/professional elevation.
  • To earn additional income for family needs.
  • To earn more to pay for mortgage and other loans.

Effects of working for long hours and sleep deprivation

Sometimes sleep disruption or deprivation becomes an unavoidable occurrence in life. Demands of life and vicissitudes of life necessitate working for long hours and reducing the hours of sleep. But this must not be continuous, otherwise one will be burning the candle at both ends. Don’t get overcommitted, overstretched and overstressed. It is not good to comfort yourself with the saying that “there is more sleep after death”.

On Metro Lifestyle platform, Ella Glover, writing on Everything Felt Meaningless: How Working Longer Hours Takes a Toll on Your Health (17/05/22), quoted a victim on the consequences of burnout. She noted that burnout can have lasting effects: “These include troubled sleeping patterns, relationship issues, high blood pressure, vision issues, teeth decay from grinding, as well as back, neck and leg problems from muscle tension. She added stomach ulcers, body inflammation, weak immunity system, acceleration of ageing, becoming increasingly depressed with demotivation and likelihood of conceiving suicidal thoughts”.

Sharing knowledge on The Health Hazards of Insufficient Sleep (2017) Julie Corliss stated that “in America, as many as one in three Americans routinely sleep for less than six hours (a night) a trend that can have serious health ramifications”.

Working for long hours necessarily reduces your hours of sleep. Some workers close from the office and “take work home”. Let us consider possible effects of working for long hours and restricting your hours of sleep over a long period.

  • Corliss identified some effects of insufficient sleep as follows:
  • Crankiness or weakness and demotivation.
  • Too exhausted to work efficiently, to exercise or to eat healthfully.
  • Obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease.
  • Prone to accidents.
  • Vulnerable to mental health challenges like depression and anxiety.
  • Drowsiness and micro sleeps during daytime. There is serious danger if you are driving.
  • Predisposed to common cold if exposed to the cold virus.

“The National Department of Transportation estimates that each year, drowsy driving is responsible for 1,550 fatalities and 40,000 non-fatal injuries in the United States.”

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and the Sleep Research Society advised that adults from the ages of 18 years to 60 years should sleep seven or more hours per night regularly for an ideal sleep health. According to the International Classification of Sleep Disorders (ICSD-3), insufficient sleep denotes curtailed sleep pattern which has persisted for a minimum of 3 months for most days of the week, along with complaints of sleepiness in the course of the day.

From the research work, The Global Problem of Insufficient Sleep and Its Serious Public Health Implications, Vijay Kumar Chattu, Dilshad Manza and Seithikurippu R. Pandi-Perumal (2018) submitted that: “Good sleep is necessary for good physical and mental health and a quality of life… Insufficient sleep is a global epidemic. It is under-reported and unrecognised and has high economic costs. It adds to the existing burden of diseases”. They stated that the wide ranging effects represent a major health problem.

Health implications noted by Chattu, Manza & Pandi-Perumal

They noted extensive variety of adverse health problems resulting from insufficient sleep and chronic sleep restriction as follows:

  • Increment in the risk of premature death.
  • Cardiovascular disease (CVD).
  • Mood disorders: irritability, moodiness and poor frustration tolerance.
  • Reduction in the attention span.
  • Memory impairment.
  • Likelihood of deficiencies in reasoning.
  • Micro sleeping (having micro sleep episodes)
  • Negative impact on the regulation of inflammatory process and tissue morbidity.
  • Impairment of cognitive processes like planning, coping and solving problems.
  • Possibility of daytime accidents and critical mistakes in the working environment.
  • Weakening of the immune system which should resist infectious diseases.
  • Probable risk factor for maintenance of good metabolism.
  • Diabetes Mellitus.
  • Increased risk of hypertension.
  • Low back pain.
  • Experiencing of burnout.
  • Likelihood of increasing the risk of cancerous tumor formation.

Other consequences for working for long hours

  • Relationships with wife, children and other family members are negatively affected. You may become a ‘stranger’ in your own home.
  • Affects children’s upbringing and parental love or affection.
  • Weakens relationship with friends, church members and neighbours.
  • Less time for social activities such as weddings, funerals, family meetings, classmates meetings and church activities.
  • Reliance on junk foods and coffee/tea.
  • Affects marriages which may lead to separation or divorce.
  • Delay in completing professional examinations.
  • Increase in hospital bills.
  • Increase in absenteeism.
  • Diminishing returns may set in at the workplace.
  • Expensive mistakes can occur.

Some life experiences

  • I have had micro sleeping experiences without accidents on my way from the office to my home a number of times.
  • I had closed late from the office some years back and coming home. Getting close to my home, I veered into the lane of an oncoming vehicle because I had an episode of micro sleeping. Fortunately for me, and God being so good, either I came to myself or the driver of the oncoming vehicle blew his horn for me to get back to my lane and escaped an accident.
  • It was reported that a CEO of a company died because of lack of sleep and a lot of stress. He was 42 years old and very active in sports. It was noted that the industry captain was a fitness freak and a marathon runner. One day he returned home from his gym after training, collapsed with a massive heart attack and passed away. It came to light that this hardworking CEO slept for four to five hours.

Concluding remarks

The researchers, Chattu, Manza & Pandi-Perumal, noted that the general public downplays the seriousness of insufficient sleep although the importance of sleep to health status deserves specific and serious attention. They added that insufficient sleep and its health ramifications may go undetected by clinicians.

It pays to work very hard, but it is not a good practice to overwork continuously for a long time as that would be detrimental to your health. It is very necessary to consider the probable consequences of working long hours. Exercise caution. Why do you have to work excessively hard in your field of endeavour or organisation, amass wealth, get awards, win prizes and die early, leaving your young children, wife and other dependants behind? Why do you have to suffer for several years after retirement because of multiple health challenges before dying? Don’t let your pursuit of career elevation or professional success reduce your health quality or life.

You may find time to read the article by Jay Fitzgerald on ‘Dying to Lead: How Reaching the Top Can Kill You Sooner’. (Source: Harvard Business School – Working Knowledge, 01/10/21, Research Ideas)

Workers, be mindful and take good rest. Don’t sacrifice your health for wealth.

The writer is a Chartered Banker. e-mail:[email protected]

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