Many workers in the United States are finding it harder to get a good night’s sleep, and a recent study found those who we depend upon in life-and-death situations are among the most sleep-deprived.

Nearly half of police and correctional officers, firefighters and those in the military – so-called protective-service workers – report not getting enough sleep, defined as less than seven hours.

The study’s authors call the results “disconcerting”

The study, published in the Journal of Community Health, analyzed data from 158,468 working adults from 2010 to 2018. Many of the most-affected occupations are related to our health, well-being and safety. The top three sleep-deprived groups are:

  • Protective-service: 50% of firefighters, police officers and other law enforcement and military members
  • Health-care support: 45% of nurses, home health aides, psychiatric aides and nursing assistants
  • Transportation and production: 41% of truck drivers, air traffic controllers, food-processing workers, power plant operators and quality-control inspectors

Sleep deprivation leads to increased risks

A 2011 study focusing on law enforcement officers found that sleep disorders were common and led to adverse outcomes for health, safety and performance. A 2014 research project in the Journal of Nursing Administration found that sleep-deprived night shift nurses made more mistakes when caring for patients.

Many factors lead to sleep disorders

Researchers in the Journal of Community Health report said the percentage of workers reporting insufficient sleep increased from 31% to 36% from 2010 to 2018. Experts point to changing workplaces and the increased use of technology and electronic devices as possible reasons.

They also highlight an escalation of workplace stress, job insecurity and workplace harassment as conditions that lead to sleep deprivation and other negative outcomes, such as obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Employers play a role in their workers’ health

The study’s co-author says companies can help keep workers healthy through programs promoting good health, diet and exercise as well as stress-management and smoking-cessation programs, which will all help them with their sleep hygiene.

Employers that take those steps often experience a boost in workplace productivity, improved safety and health conditions for their workers and a reduction in employee health care costs.