Association of sickness absence with poor sleep and depressive symptoms in shift workers

Chronobiol Int. 2004;21(6):899-912. doi: 10.1081/cbi-200038104.


A cross-sectional study was conducted to evaluate the contribution of daily sleep habits and depressive symptoms to sickness absences of shift workers. A self-administered questionnaire that solicited answers about sleep, symptoms of depression, sickness absence, diseases/injuries, and lifestyle factors was submitted to a sample of 522 rotating shift workers between the ages of 18-59 (mean 27) yrs of an electric equipment manufacturing company. The seven features of sleep queried were daily hours of sleep, time to fall asleep, awakening during sleep, early morning awakening, sleep well at night, sufficiency of sleep, and excessive daytime sleepiness at work. The responses were assessed over the subject's previous 1-yr period. Each sleep feature, except daily sleeping hours, was dichotomized by the following responses: (1) taking more than 30min to fall asleep (difficulty initiating sleep; DIS), (2) awakening during sleep almost every day (difficulty maintaining sleep; DMS), (3) early morning awakening almost every day (EMA), (4) sleeping very poorly or not so well at night, (5) definite or somewhat insufficient nightly sleep, and (6) excessive daytime sleepiness at work almost every day (EDS). Depressive symptoms were assessed using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression (CES-D) scale. Sickness absence was calculated by asking subjects "How many days in total have you been absent from work due to sickness, including paid vacation, in the last 1-yr period?" The responses were divided into three groups that included no (0 days) sickness absences (reference group, n=235 subjects), 1 to 4 days (short-term, n=199 subjects), and 5 days or more (long-term, n = 88 subjects). Compared to the prevalence of sleep features of the reference group, workers with short-term absence showed a significantly higher prevalence of EMA with an odds ratio (OR) of 5.3, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.3-22.0. Long-term absence was significantly associated with DMS (OR = 2.1, 95%CI 1.0-4.6), EMA (OR = 5.6, 95%CI 1.0-28.7), sleeping poorly at night (OR= 2.6, 95%CI 1.4-5.0), and high depressive symptoms (OR = 2.0, 95%CI 1.0-3.7) according to the CES-D score of >16, after adjusting for multiple confounding variables. These data point to an association between both the parameters of poor sleep and symptoms of deep depression when self-reported sickness absence is frequent. The association is particularly strong with long-term absence in male shift workers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Comorbidity
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupations
  • Sick Leave*
  • Sleep
  • Sleep Disorders, Circadian Rhythm*
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Work Schedule Tolerance