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Tough Work Hours in 20s, 30s Tied to Worse Health Decades Later
  • Posted April 4, 2024

Tough Work Hours in 20s, 30s Tied to Worse Health Decades Later

A rotten work schedule in young adulthood can affect a person's middle-aged health, a new study finds.

Young adults who worked shifts outside the usual 9-to-5 schedule were more likely to report worse sleep and symptoms of depression in their 50s, researchers discovered.

"Work that is supposed to bring resources to help us sustain a decent life has now become a vulnerability to a healthy life,"said researcher Wen-Jui Han, a professor with New York University.

For the study, Han and her colleagues analyzed data from a long-term study that tracked the health of more than 7,000 people in the United States for more than three decades.

Results showed that in their 20s through their 40s, people rarely have a straight 9-to-5 schedule.

"Indeed, about three-quarters of the work patterns we observed did not strictly conform to working stably during daytime hours throughout our working years,"Han said in a university news release. "This has repercussions."

These sort of volatile work hours are associated with bad sleep, physical fatigue and emotional exhaustion, all of which can contribute to poor health, Han said.

"People with work patterns involving any degree of volatility and variability were more likely to have fewer hours of sleep per day, lower sleep quality, lower physical and mental functions, and a higher likelihood of reporting poor health and depressive symptoms at age 50 than those with stable standard work schedules,"Han added.

The most striking results were seen in the 17% of study participants who had stable work hours in their 20s, but then shifted to volatile working patterns in their 30s.

This indicates that positive and negative effects of work schedules on health can accumulate over the lifetime, Han said.

Volatile work hours are the result of the unstable employment opportunities available to many people, Han said. 

In particular, Black Americans are more likely to have volatile work schedules associated with poorer health, Han noted.

The new study was published April 3 in the journal PLOS One.

More information

Harvard Medical School has more on the harmful health effects of shift work.

SOURCE: PLOS One, news release, April 3, 2024

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