German scientists did a study of factory workers at a ThyssenKrupp steel plant several years ago that looked at the effects of matching circadian rhythms with work hours. They gave morning shifts to early risers and the afternoon shifts to later risers. The results were as expected. Both groups of workers slept more, were more rested and felt better.
A lack of sleep can not only harm your health, but it can also reduce productivity. Dr. Till Roenneberg of Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich says that a lack of sleep can reduce a country’s economic output by up to 1%. The economic impact is a big one to employers, but there is also a significant cost to the employees when they are not in tune with their natural circadian rhythm at work.
New research is shedding light that when we force ourselves to sleep and get up early in the morning, that we are increasing the chances of experiencing fatigue during the workday. This can result in more mistakes and reduced productivity. It can also impact both our mental and physical health. A mismatch of a biological clock and work hours can increase the chances of developing depression, suffering anxiety and the risk of heart disease. Poor sleep and misalignment of our natural biological clocks can even make us gain weight and increase obesity levels.
Dr. Céline Vetter University of Colorado at Boulder estimates that up to 80% of people have work hours that are out of whack with their circadian rhythm. This means there are a lot of tired, fatigued and unproductive people at work. Dr. Vetter even goes so far as to say that if people need an alarm clock to wake up, then they are definitely out of sync with their chronotype. A person’s chronotype is when they naturally fall asleep and wake up. It varies from being an early riser to a night owl. Most people fall between the two extremes.
Other studies into chronotypes have found similar results. When a night owl is forced to work during the day, they are more likely to develop diabetes according to a Harvard University study done in 2015. Employees working when they would rather be sleeping are also more likely to experience pain and discomfort at work according to a study that tracked call center, transit, and packaging employees.
The good news for people is that more and more companies are now offering flexible work arrangements. This means that people can come into the office later or work remotely. The bad news is that a majority of companies still require employees to get up early get to the office on time. Camilla Kring, a consultant for human resource policy in Denmark, says that a cultural change is needed to break the traditional 9-5 workday and make flexible work more widely accepted. Only then, will we really see a major change in employment hours that better align with our biological clocks.