Sleep disturbance and the older worker: Findings from the Health and Employment After Fifty study

Keith Palmer, Stefania D'Angelo, Clare Harris, Cathy Linaker, Avan Aihie Sayer, Catharine Gale, Maria Evandrou, Tjeerd P van Staa, Cyrus Cooper, David Coggon, Karen Walker-Bone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

To characterise the descriptive epidemiology of insomnia in mid-life and explore the relative importance of different occupational risk factors for insomnia in older workers.

A questionnaire was mailed to all adults aged 50-64 years registered with 24 English general practices. Insomnia was defined as having at least one of four problems with sleep severely in the past 3 months. Subjects were also asked about employment conditions, feelings concerning work, and their health. Associations were assessed by logistic regression and population attributable fractions (PAF) calculated.

Analysis was based on 8067 respondents (5470 in paid work). Insomnia was reported by 18.8% of subjects, being commoner in women, smokers, obese individuals, those living alone, and those in financial hardship, and less prevalent in the educated, those in South-East England, and those with friendships and leisure-time pursuits. Occupational risk factors included unemployment, shift working, lack of control and support at work, job insecurity, job dissatisfaction and several of its determinants (lacking a sense of achievement, feeling unappreciated, having difficult work colleagues, feeling unfairly criticised). Population burden of insomnia was associated more strongly with difficulties in coping with work demands, job insecurity, difficult colleagues, and lack of friendships at work (PAF 15-33%) than shift work and lack of autonomy or support (PAF 5-7%). It was strongly associated with seven measures of poorer self-assessed health.

Employment policies aimed at tackling insomnia in older workers may benefit from focussing particularly on job-person fit, job security and relationships in the workplace. 
Summary – What is new
Job demands, lack of support and choice, job stress and shift working have been the main occupational risk factors for insomnia considered in previous research. Our findings suggest that these contribute less to the population burden of insomnia in older workers than other workplace factors such as inability to cope at work, job insecurity, having difficult colleagues and lacking work friendships.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)136-145
Number of pages10
JournalScandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health
Issue number2
Early online date1 Mar 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Mar 2017

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • health and employment after fifty study
  • insomnia
  • occupational
  • older worker
  • psychosocial
  • sleep disturbance
  • sleep


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