Workplace Bullying Linked to Sleep Problems

A good night’s sleep may be hard to come by if you are bullied at work.

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on September 01, 2009
From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 1, 2009 -- Being bullied at work may make you toss and turn all night.

Researchers have found that people who are intimidated, insulted, or otherwise harassed on the job are more likely to have sleep disturbances than are other workers. Their findings appear in the Sept.1 issue of the journal Sleep.

Workplace bullying may be a common occurrence, according to the new study, which involved more than 7,600 middle-aged workers in southeast France. The study participants answered questionnaires regarding their work environment and ability to fall asleep and return to sleep after early awakenings.

In the study, 11% of women and 9% of men reported being exposed to bullying at work at least once a week for at least six months of the previous year. Workplace bullying was defined as "hostile behavior on the part of one or more persons in the work environment that aim continually and repeatedly to offend, oppress, maltreat, or to exclude or isolate over a long period of time."

The researchers found that women exposed to bullying on the job every day or nearly every day were about twice as likely as their peers to have sleeping difficulties. Men who had to deal with such hostile behavior now or in the past had more than two times the sleep disturbances as men who had not.

The more often someone was bullied on the job, the more likely they were to have sleeping difficulties. The results took into consideration other factors that can affect sleep, such as age, occupation, work hours, and symptoms of depression.

Sleep Also Eludes Observers

The sleep woes also affected those who saw someone else being bullied. Slightly more than a third of workers said they witnessed bullying on the job in the previous 12 months. Among the findings:

  • Men who observed workplace bullying had an estimated 60% higher chance of having sleep disturbances.
  • The odds for disturbed sleep were 20% higher in women who saw someone else being bullied.

The chances for sleep problems increased more if the workers both saw and experienced bullying. The study authors say their findings highlight the need for greater efforts to prevent bullying in the workplace

"Workplace bullying may be considered as one of the leading job stressors and would be a major cause of suicide and other health-related issues," Isabelle Niedhammer, PhD, epidemiologist and researcher at the UCD School of Public Health & Population Science at the University College Dublin in Ireland, says in a statement. "Our study underlines the need to better understand and prevent occupational risk factors, such as bullying, for sleep disorders."

Adjustment insomnia is the medical term for sleep difficulties that result from an identifiable stressor, such as workplace bullying. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, symptoms may also involve anxiety, worry, depression, muscle tension, and headaches. Adjustment insomnia usually goes away within three months, but it may linger if the person remains in the stressful environment or can’t otherwise adapt to the situation.

Show Sources


News release, American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Niedhammer, I. Sleep, Sept. 1, 2009; vol 32: pp 1211-1219.

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