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Not-So-Great Resignation: Unemployed People Sleep Worse and Less

Sarah Shoen
Tony Stasiek

Written by

Sarah Shoen and Tony Stasiek

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The U.S. unemployment rate was largely unchanged in January 2022, increasing to 4% from 3.9% in December 2021 with 467,000 new jobs added, per the U.S. Department of Labor. But according to a recent study, jobless Americans may be seeing a change of their own: They aren’t sleeping right.

Researchers from Dartmouth College and University of London found that unemployed adults in the U.S. and Europe sleep worse than the full-time workforce, despite the potential for having more time to regulate sleep. Even before the pandemic, jobless adults have reported that they sleep too little, sleep too much, and have other sleep issues.

Unemployed people sleep worse and less

New research shows jobless adults have worse sleep outcomes than the working population, including over-sleeping, under-sleeping, and higher rates of sleep disruption.

As omicron and the “Great Resignation” continue to challenge workers and employers across many industries, the study — which claims to be the first to examine joblessness and sleeplessness — may raise new questions about the health of jobless adults and how to address it.

The study focused separately on adults out of work for at least a year and those unemployed for three months or less. In addition to looking at how unemployment itself related to sleep, researchers found a connection between how long people are out of work and the depth of their sleep and related health issues.

“Increases in the unemployment rate raise the incidence of short sleep and lower sleep durations,” researchers say.

Drawing data from 2.5 million U.S. survey respondents from 2006 and 2019 as well as self-reported European Social Survey data between 2004 and 2014, researchers found that:

  • Respondents without jobs for more than a year were more likely to experience long sleep (10+ hours a night) and short sleep (less than six hours) than employed people.
  • Respondents without jobs for three or fewer months were more likely to sleep more than 10 hours a night.
  • Respondents who were jobless for more than a year were more likely to have problems falling and staying asleep.

Researchers say that reported sleep issues moved in parallel with the unemployment rate, with both increasing at the same time. Incidentally, the 7% unemployment rate reported for European nations in December 2021 is the lowest since record-keeping began in 1988.

The pandemic placed renewed emphasis on how unemployment itself impacts mental health, leading to issues such as depression and decreased self-esteem. Stress and anxiety may contribute to insomnia and other sleep issues.

Researchers in this study noted how oversleeping and undersleeping as a result of unemployment can lead to obesity and even death. They also noted that being “unable to work” was a strong predictor of extreme distress, defined as experiencing “bad mental health” for 30 consecutive days, according to another study.

Since the outset of the pandemic, some industries have marked decreases in available work, in addition to concerns about worker availability. Despite recent gains, the leisure and hospitality industry has dropped 1.8 million jobs since February 2020, down 10.3% as of January 2022. The U.S. also lost 378,000 health care jobs in that time frame, with gains in retail and transportation jobs in that time.

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About Our Editorial Team

Sarah Shoen

PR Specialist

Sarah has covered news topics for digital and print publications. She has a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Nevada.

Tony Stasiek


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