Workers taking part in an intervention to reduce conflict between responsibilities at home and in the workplace experienced improved sleep duration and sufficiency, according to a new study published in Sleep Health.

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Sleep deficiency has been associated with increased risk of chronic disease and early mortality, the authors state.

“Increasing family-supportive supervision and employee control over work time benefited the sleep of hundreds of employees, and even greater effects may be possible if sleep is overtly addressed in workplace interventions,” says lead author Dr. Ryan Olson of Oregon Health & Science University.

The intervention consisted of facilitated discussions, role-playing and games for both managers and employees. Managers received additional training in family supportive supervision and had to monitor how well they applied this training when working.

“The Work, Family, and Health Network Study intervention was designed to reduce work-family conflict,” explains Dr. Olson. “It did not directly address sleep, yet sleep benefits were observed.”

Work-family conflict occurs when the demands placed upon an individual both at work and at home with their family make it difficult for the individual to successfully fulfill the duties of either role.

A previous study, published in Workplace Health Safety, found that higher levels of work-family conflict were significantly associated with sleep deficiency. In addition, higher levels of work-family conflict could also be used to predict sleep deficiency several years later.

For the study, researchers analyzed participants in a 3-month intervention involving randomly selected managers and employees of an information technology company. The team collected data through interviews with the participants a year after the intervention had begun and through measuring sleep quality and duration.

The measuring of sleep quality and quantity, referred to as actigraphy, was conducted at the beginning of the intervention and again a year afterward. Activity recordings were assessed by two scorers, identifying periods of sleep associated with each individual’s daily activities.

A total of 474 workers participated in the intervention and completed actigraphy.

Prior to the intervention, the authors hypothesized that its participants would experience improvements to their sleep duration and any symptoms of insomnia that were being experienced.

The authors also predicted that improvements to sleep would be brought about by the employees having greater control over their work time and through reductions in work-family conflict.

Although insomnia symptoms did not improve, the team found that those participating in the work-family conflict-resolving intervention reported greater sleep sufficiency and slept on average 1 hour more each week than individuals that did not take part in the intervention.

“This study demonstrates that interventions unrelated to sleep can improve sleep in the population,” states the editor-in-chief of Sleep Health, Dr. Lauren Hale. “Furthermore, these findings serve as a reminder that there are opportunities to deploy innovative interventions to improve sleep.”

More questionnaires and actigraphy recordings would strengthen the findings of the study. The authors acknowledge the limitations of only utilizing actigraphy data from two dates for each participant, and this leaves their results open to potential confounding.

Despite this limitation, Dr. Hales applauds the methodological rigor of the authors’ approach to assessing the impact of the intervention on sleep duration and sufficiency in a real world population.

“Work can be a calling and inspirational, as well as a paycheck, but work should not be detrimental to health,” concludes lead investigator Dr. Orfeu Buxton of Pennsylvania State University. “It is possible to mitigate some of the deleterious effects of work by reducing work-family conflict, and improving sleep.”

Elsewhere, a study reported that good-quality sleep when individuals are younger, not older, could be crucial for memory later in life.