Psychosocial factors at work and sleep problems: a longitudinal study of the general working population in Norway

  • Håkon A. JohannessenEmail author
  • Tom Sterud
Original Article



A growing number of longitudinal studies report associations between adverse psychosocial factors at work and sleep problems. However, the evidence regarding the direction of these associations and the effects of changes in exposure across time is limited. This study examined the plausibility of normal, reverse, and reciprocal associations between ten psychosocial factors at work and sleep problems. In addition, we analyzed if reduced exposure across time had the anticipated result of reducing the risk of sleep problems.


Randomly drawn from the general working-age population, the cohort comprised respondents with an active employee relationship in 2009 and 2013 (N = 5760). Exposures and outcome were measured on two occasions separated by 4 years. We computed several sex-stratified logistic regression models with adjustments for various plausible confounders.


We found support for the commonly hypothesized unidirectional forward associations between psychosocial factors at work and sleep problems among women only. Among men, psychosocial stressors at work and sleep problems were reciprocally and reversely related. Nevertheless, reduced exposure levels across time pertaining to effort–reward imbalance (OR = 0.36; 95% CI = 0.19–0.69) and lack of social support (OR = 0.55; 95% CI = 0.32–0.93) among men, and work–family imbalance (OR = 0.26; 95% CI = 0.15–0.46) among women were associated with a robust significant lower risk of sleep problems compared to those in the stable high exposure groups.


The study results suggest that preventive measures targeting effort–reward imbalance and lack of social support among men, and work–family imbalance among women, might contribute to reduce the risk of troubled sleep among employees.


Sleep Occupational exposure Prospective study Workload Job demands 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


  1. Åkerstedt T (2003) Shift work and disturbed sleep/wakefulness. Occup Med 53(2):89–94CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Åkerstedt T (2006) Psychosocial stress and impaired sleep. Scand J Work Environ Health 32(6):493–501CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Åkerstedt T, Fredlund P, Gillberg M, Jansson B (2002) Work load and work hours in relation to disturbed sleep and fatigue in a large representative sample. J Psychosom Res 53(1):585–588CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Åkerstedt T, Knutsson A, Westerholm P, Theorell T, Alfredsson L, Kecklund G (2004) Mental fatigue, work and sleep. J Psychosom Res 57(5):427–433CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Åkerstedt T, Nordin M, Alfredsson L, Westerholm P, Kecklund G (2012) Predicting changes in sleep complaints from baseline values and changes in work demands, work control, and work preoccupation—the WOLF-project. Sleep Med 13(1):73–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Åkerstedt T et al (2015) Work and sleep-a prospective study of psychosocial work factors, physical work factors, and work scheduling. Sleep 38(7):1129–1136CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Boot C (2015) Work characteristics and health: how to analyze change. Scand J Work Environ Health 41(6):509CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. De Lange AH, Taris TW, Kompier MA, Houtman IL, Bongers PM (2005) Different mechanisms to explain the reversed effects of mental health on work characteristics. Scand J Work Environ Health 31(1):3–14CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. De Lange AH et al (2009) A hard day’s night: a longitudinal study on the relationships among job demands and job control, sleep quality and fatigue. J Sleep Res 18(3):374–383CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Elo AL, Skogstad A, Dallner M, Gamberale F, Hottinen V, Knardahl S (2000) User’s guide for the QPSNordic: General Nordic Questionnaire for psychological and social factors at work. Nordic Council of Ministers, Copenhagen. TemaNord 2000:603Google Scholar
  11. Flier JS, Underhill LH, McEwen BS (1998) Protective and damaging effects of stress mediators. N Engl J Med 338(3):171–179CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hanson LLM, Åkerstedt T, Näswall K, Leineweber C, Theorell T, Westerlund H (2011) Cross-lagged relationships between workplace demands, control, support, and sleep problems. Sleep 34(10):1403CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Karasek RA Jr (1979) Job demands, job decision latitude, and mental strain: implications for job redesign. Admin Sci Quart 24(2):285–308CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Kompier M (2003) Job design and well-being. Handb Work Health Psychol 2:429–454Google Scholar
  15. LeBlanc M, Mérette C, Savard J, Ivers H, Baillargeon L, Morin CM (2009) Incidence and risk factors of insomnia in a population-based sample. Sleep 32(8):1027–1037CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Linton SJ et al (2015) The effect of the work environment on future sleep disturbances: a systematic review. Sleep Med Rev 23:10–19CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Luckhaupt SE, Tak S, Calvert GM (2010) The prevalence of short sleep duration by industry and occupation in the National Health Interview Survey. Sleep 33(2):149–159CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Minkel JD et al (2012) Sleep quality and neural circuit function supporting emotion regulation. Biol Mood Anxiety Disord 2(1):1CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Moffitt PF, Kalucy E, Kalucy R, Baum F, Cooke R (1991) Sleep difficulties, pain and other correlates. J Intern Med 230(3):245–249CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Ohayon MM (2002) Epidemiology of insomnia: what we know and what we still need to learn. Sleep Med Rev 6(2):97–111CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Ota A et al (2009) Psychosocial job characteristics and insomnia: a prospective cohort study using the Demand-Control-Support (DCS) and Effort-Reward Imbalance (ERI) job stress models. Sleep Med 10(10):1112–1117CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Podsakoff PM, MacKenzie SB, Lee J-Y, Podsakoff NP (2003) Common method biases in behavioral research: a critical review of the literature and recommended remedies. J Appl Psychol 88(5):879CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Rugulies R, Norborg M, Sørensen TS, Knudsen LE, Burr H (2009) Effort–reward imbalance at work and risk of sleep disturbances. Cross-sectional and prospective results from the Danish Work Environment Cohort Study. J Psychosom Res 66(1):75–83CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Sabanayagam C, Shankar A (2011) The association between active smoking, smokeless tobacco, second-hand smoke exposure and insufficient sleep. Sleep Med 12(1):7–11CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Sekine M, Chandola T, Martikainen P, Marmot M, Kagamimori S (2006) Work and family characteristics as determinants of socioeconomic and sex inequalities in sleep: the Japanese Civil Servants Study. Sleep N Y Westchest 29(2):206CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Siegrist J et al (2004) The measurement of effort–reward imbalance at work: European comparisons. Soc Sci Med 58(8):1483–1499CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Statistics Norway (2010) Samordnet levekårsundersøkelse 2009-Tverrsnitt: Arbeidsmiljø. Report in Norwegian Statistics Norway Oslo, TemaGoogle Scholar
  28. Van Dongen HPA, Maislin G, Mullington JM, Dinges DF (2003) The cumulative cost of additional wakefulness: dose-response effects on neurobehavioral functions and sleep physiology from chronic sleep restriction and total sleep deprivation. Sleep N Y Westchest 26(2):117–129CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. van Hooff ML, Taris TW (2014) Let’s study how worker health affects the psychosocial work environment. Scand J Work Environ Health 40(5):437CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Van Laethem M, Beckers DG, Kompier MA, Dijksterhuis A, Geurts SA (2013) Psychosocial work characteristics and sleep quality: a systematic review of longitudinal and intervention research. Scand J Work Environ Health 39(6):535–549. doi: 10.5271/sjweh.3376 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Van Reeth O, Weibel L, Spiegel K, Leproult R, Dugovic C, Maccari S (2000) Physiology of sleep (review)–interactions between stress and sleep: from basic research to clinical situations. Sleep Med Rev 4(2):201–219CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Vleeshouwers J, Knardahl S, Christensen J (2015) Effects of psychological and social work factors on self-reported sleep disturbance and difficulties initiating sleep. Sleep 39(4):833–846CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Zhang B, Wing Y (2006) Sex differences in insomnia: a meta-analysis. Sleep N Y Westchest 29(1):85CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Institute of Occupational HealthOsloNorway

Personalised recommendations