Working too many hours ‘is making us sick and poor’

‘Our work now is making us sick and poor,’ professor says

Olivia Hebert
Los Angeles
Wednesday 17 April 2024 22:15 BST
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Research shows that working crazy hours can increase the likelihood of depression and chronic illness.

According to a new study published in PLOS One, research indicates that working late nights and crazy schedules as a young adult can lead to an increased risk of depression and poor health when they’re middle-aged.

After examining the work schedules and sleep patterns of 7,000 Americans for three decades, the study’s author - NYU professor Wen-Jui Han - found that only one-quarter of the participants worked regular daytime hours.

Those who participated in the study were interviewed from ages 22 through 50, with three-quarters of the study’s sample of American workers born in the 1960s. As opposed to workers with daytime schedules, workers who had night hours or rotating shifts when they were younger ultimately reportedly struggled with sleep and were more likely to experience poor health and depression at age 50.

After clocking in too many hours and embracing the hustle culture mindset for decades, Han’s doctor told her when she was 40 that she had the biological age of a 60-year-old. This led her to study whether working long hours could impact long-term health.

“Our work now is making us sick and poor,” Han explained to NPR in a Zoom interview. “Work is supposed to allow us to accumulate resources. But, for a lot of people, their work doesn’t allow them to do so. They actually become more and more miserable over time.”

Han said that she hopes her research will “provide resources to support people to have a happy and healthy life when they’re physically exhausted and emotionally drained because of their work.”

“We can say they voluntarily want to work long hours, but in reality, it’s not about voluntarily working long hours,” Han noted. “They sense that the culture of their work demands that they work long hours, or they may get penalized.”

In her research, she found that those who sacrificed proper rest for work were statistically more likely to have depression or poor health issues.

She said, “When our work becomes a daily stressor, these are the kind of health consequences you may expect to see 30 years down the road.”

The study may have linked working nights and rotating shifts with poor sleep and poor health, but couldn’t find substantial evidence that one directly causes the other. However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does note that insufficient sleep can lead to a greater likelihood of chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

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