HKS Authors

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In the retail and food service sectors, work schedules change from day-to-day and week-to-week, often with little advance notice, posing a potential impediment to healthy sleep patterns. In this article, we use data from the Shift Project collected in 2018 and 2019 for a sample of over 16,000 hourly workers employed in the service sector to examine relationships between unstable and unpredictable work schedules and sleep quality. We extend prior research on shift work and sleep disruption, which has often focused on the health care sector, to the retail and food service sector, which comprises nearly 20 percent of jobs in the U.S. We find that the unstable and unpredictable schedules that are typical in the service sector are associated with poor sleep quality, difficulty falling asleep, waking during sleep, and waking up feeling tired. As a benchmark, we compare unstable and unpredictable work schedules with two well-known predictors of sleep quality - having a young child and working the night shift. The strength of the associations between most types of unstable and unpredictable work schedules and sleep quality are stronger than those of having a pre-school aged child or working a regular night shift. Chronic uncertainty about the timing of work shifts appears to have a pernicious influence on sleep quality, and, given its prevalence for low-wage workers, potentially contributes to stark health inequalities by socioeconomic status.


Harknett, Kristen, Daniel Schneider, and Rebecca Wolfe. "Losing Sleep over Work Scheduling? The Relationship between Work Schedules and Sleep Quality for Service Sector Workers." SSM-Population Health 12 (December 2020): 100681.