Different levels of work-related stress and the effects on sleep, fatigue and cortisol

Scand J Work Environ Health. 2005 Aug;31(4):277-85. doi: 10.5271/sjweh.883.


Objectives: The aim of the study was to relate different levels of work stress to measures of sleep and the diurnal pattern of salivary cortisol and subjective sleepiness.

Methods: Thirty-four white-collar workers participated under two different conditions. One workweek with a relatively high stress level (H) and one with a lower stress level (L) as measured through self-rated stress during workdays. The workers wore activity monitors, filled out a sleep diary, gave saliva samples (for cortisol), and rated their sleepiness and stress during one workday and one free day.

Results: During the week with stress the number of workhours increased and total sleep time decreased. Sleepiness showed a significant interaction between weeks and time of day, with particularly high levels towards the evenings of the stress week. Cortisol also showed a significant interaction, with a more flattened pattern, probably due to increased evening levels during the stress week. Stress (restlessness) at bedtime was significantly increased during the stress week.

Conclusions: The results demonstrate that a workweek with a high workload and much stress increases sleepiness and workhours, impairs sleep, and affects the pattern of diurnal cortisol secretion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Employment*
  • Fatigue / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / analysis*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Saliva / chemistry
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*


  • Hydrocortisone