September 11th, 2009

Bullying Impacts Sleep: Two Studies

Workplace bullying is a known stressor. Depriving workers of control over their work day by incessant meddling, interference, humiliation, command-and-control managing, and intimidation generates stress to varying degrees in individuals. Stress is a physiological response that is a biological reality. Two studies show how bullying affects sleep.

The list of known health impacts of bullying is long. Affected systems include cardiovascular (high blood pressure, cardiac ischemia, heart attacks, stroke — a great deal has been discovered by Peter Schnall, MD and researchers associated with the Center for Social Epidemiology), gastrointestinal (colitis, ulcers), auto-immune (fibromyalgia, cancer propensity), and the psychological/emotional (anxiety, panic attacks, clinical depression, acute stress disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder – PTSD).

One characteristic of the onset of depression is sleep disruption — either trouble falling asleep or trouble returning to sleep after premature awakening. A recent study of French workers (E8  by Niedhammer et al. in our Research section) illustrates the association between being bullied and sleep disturbances.

Of those currently experiencing bullying both men and women were twice as likely to have sleep trouble than those not bullied. Problems with sleep were most pronounced when the bullying was daily or almost daily, and for women, if the exposure to bullying lasted more than five years.

Even witnesses to bullying were affected. For men, 60% increase in sleep disturbances; for women, a 20% increase occurs. People who both witnessed and personally were bullied had twice the sleep problems as people not bullied, with men having a slightly worse time than women.

In an American study (E9 in our Research section ), the association between being bothered or upset at work and the quality of sleep was examined. How does work “follow workers home”? Being bothered by work is a direct measure of stress because it captures a person’s emotional reactions to conditions at work. Other negative workplace measures included reports of low control (no autonomy) over work conditions and perceived job insecurity (fearing layoffs). The Univ of Michigan researchers (Burgard and Ailshire) used a longitudinal sample of 1,330 representative adult Americans across the occupational spectrum and across three measurement periods.

The results showed that being bothered or upset at work does consistently account for poor sleep quality. Even stressful negative conditions at home (financial hardship, spouse concerns, children) were not as disruptive as being bothered.

The relevance of the two studies is that sleepy, fatigued workers make performance errors. In manufacturing sites, they risk injury. In white collar workplaces, they make more mental errors. Though bullied workers are subjected to false claims by their bullies that they are poor performers, eventually the stress from bullying makes the person perform poorly. Sleep disruption may be one reason. Thus, the bully’s lies become their own self-fulfilling prophecy.

The studies (both available through our Research section):
Workplace bullying and sleep disturbances: Findings from a large scale cross-sectional survey in the French working population. I. Niedhammer, S. David,  S. Degioanni, A. Drummond, & P. Philip  (2009) Sleep, 32 (9), 1211-1219.

Putting work to bed: Stressful experiences on the job and sleep quality. By S. Burgard, & J. Ailshire. Population Studies Center Research Report 08-652, University of Michigan, 2008.


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This entry was posted on Friday, September 11th, 2009 at 12:52 pm and is filed under Bullying-Related Research, Tutorials About Bullying. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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