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Is sleep really for sissies? Understanding the role of work in insomnia in the US


  • Henry, Doug
  • McClellen, Dana
  • Rosenthal, Leon
  • Dedrick, David
  • Gosdin, Melissa


This study explores the role of work in patient narratives about their experiences with insomnia. "Work" includes such facets as the nature of one's occupation, the associated volume or amount of work required, mental demands related to work, work schedules and work-related stress. Interviews conducted with 24 patients aged between 22 and 74 receiving treatment for insomnia at one of two sleep medicine clinics in Oregon and Texas, USA, suggest that work is a pivotal influence in shaping interpretations of the nature of insomnia, its causes, and the efficacy of medical treatment. Results suggest correlations between sleeplessness and modern working lifestyles in American culture, in which labor seems to transcend the physical workplace, manifesting itself in the form of cognitive labor or continued problems into retirement. Patients often cite work as the primary causal agent in the development of their insomnia, their primary reason for needing "good" sleep, their impetus for seeking medical attention, and behavioral compliance with a medically prescribed regimen. Insomnia as an illness experience thus serves as a mechanism through which respondents consciously or unconsciously comment on the nature of work in their lives. The medical and social implications of these results are discussed.

Suggested Citation

  • Henry, Doug & McClellen, Dana & Rosenthal, Leon & Dedrick, David & Gosdin, Melissa, 2008. "Is sleep really for sissies? Understanding the role of work in insomnia in the US," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 66(3), pages 715-726, February.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:66:y:2008:i:3:p:715-726

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Moreira, Tiago, 2006. "Sleep, health and the dynamics of biomedicine," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 63(1), pages 54-63, July.
    2. Doi, Yuriko & Minowa, Masumi, 2003. "Gender differences in excessive daytime sleepiness among Japanese workers," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 56(4), pages 883-894, February.
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