Different levels of work-related stress and the effects on sleep, fatigue and cortisol

Anna Dahlgren, Göran Kecklund, Torbjörn Akerstedt
Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health 2005, 31 (4): 277-85

OBJECTIVES: The aim of the study was to relate different levels of work stress to measures of sleep and the diurnal pattern of salivary cortisol and subjective sleepiness.

METHODS: Thirty-four white-collar workers participated under two different conditions. One workweek with a relatively high stress level (H) and one with a lower stress level (L) as measured through self-rated stress during workdays. The workers wore activity monitors, filled out a sleep diary, gave saliva samples (for cortisol), and rated their sleepiness and stress during one workday and one free day.

RESULTS: During the week with stress the number of workhours increased and total sleep time decreased. Sleepiness showed a significant interaction between weeks and time of day, with particularly high levels towards the evenings of the stress week. Cortisol also showed a significant interaction, with a more flattened pattern, probably due to increased evening levels during the stress week. Stress (restlessness) at bedtime was significantly increased during the stress week.

CONCLUSIONS: The results demonstrate that a workweek with a high workload and much stress increases sleepiness and workhours, impairs sleep, and affects the pattern of diurnal cortisol secretion.

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