Most of us will go through periods in our lives when we don’t sleep as well as perhaps we should.

There are so many factors in everyday life which can affect sleep, and even those who keep the most regular hours can be susceptible to problems.

Stress, diet, and certain medical conditions such as COPD and arthritis can cause symptoms of sleeplessness; and as we get older, we also become more prone to falling melatonin levels, which can cause primary insomnia.

What’s more, our culture of work and social life is becoming one which operates around the clock, and more and more of us will undertake work which falls outside of ‘regular’ hours. For those who are less able to keep consistent sleeping hours, getting enough shut-eye might pose a considerable issue.

How much should we be getting?

It really depends on the individual as to how much sleep is an ideal amount. For most adults, the optimal duration is around seven to nine hours a night. Children and teenagers will generally need longer; whereas adults in their later years may not need as much.

The quality of the sleep someone does get is important too. If a person is prone to disturbances and interruptions during the night, this can have a huge impact on the way they feel during waking hours. Often, someone may have a terrible night’s sleep and not even realise.

Irregular working hours on the rise

Several studies have suggested that those whose primary hours of work fall outside of ‘normal nine to five’ may be particularly susceptible to sleep-related illness; and professions working in the emergency services, such as police officers and doctors, have long been associated with irregular hours.

But other lines of work have begun to become more demanding in recent years too. The teaching profession is one such example. Hours are becoming longer and workloads are increasing, according to several studies.

The world of education isn’t taking its toll on teachers alone; as the race for both jobs and postgraduate university places becomes more competitive, many students are also working harder than they have had to previously.

Elsewhere, the UK has seen an increased demand for restaurant and hospitality workers, due to economic trends.

The result of all of the above is that a growing percentage of our workforce is now working evenings and weekends.

Sleep and health

Of course, certain conditions such as diabetes and BPH can make sleeping well something of a challenge; but the relationship between sleep and health is a two-way street.

It’s well known that lack of sleep can make us feel irritable, harm our concentration and make us feel less alert in the short term. There are, however, long-term ramifications too.

As well as increasing the likelihood of someone developing diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure, those who don’t sleep well on a consistent basis are also thought to have a reduced life expectancy.

What constitutes a good night’s sleep?

Lowering the risk of these health issues is as much about quality of sleep as it is about duration.

There are several stages of sleep; and the body will act differently during each.

These stages are split into non-REM (three stages) and REM sleep.

  • Stage one sleep lasts in most cases for up to 10 minutes, and is the lightest phase. Sleepers at stage one may experience a falling feeling. It is easy to be awoken from sleep during this time.
  • During stage two, brain waves begin to slow down along with eye movement and heart rate. The temperature of the body also falls as the body prepares for deeper stages.
  • Deep sleep starts at stage three, and being awoken from this state would result in the sleeper feeling disorientated for a number of minutes. It is during this stage that the body performs reparative functions; replenishing the immune system and strengthening bone and muscular tissue.  
  • The sleeper enters REM (rapid eye movement) sleep next. This tends to begin around an hour to an hour and a half after first getting to sleep. At first, REM periods will be as short as 10 minutes, but will increase in length the longer the person is asleep.
  • REM sees the function of the brain increase, and the sleeper may have dreams during this phase. As the name suggests, the eyes begin to move around quickly, and blood pressure may rise along with heart rate and body temperature.
  • It may not sound pleasant in physical terms, but REM sleep is vital for brain development, and helps to nurture those regions which deal with learning (hence, infants and children will generally undergo longer periods of REM than adults).

During the night, the sleeper will flit between the non-REM and REM phases. On average an adult is thought to go through around five episodes of REM sleep per night.

Sleep apps

Those looking to improve their health by getting a better night’s sleep are perhaps more equipped to monitor their habits than ever before, thanks to the sleep tracker app.

These can be downloaded to mobile devices and placed in close proximity of the sleeper, to help them determine how well they’re sleeping, and identify habitual patterns.

MotionX 24/7 by developers US-based developers Fullpower is one such application. As well as providing a step counter and a facility which can measure heart rate, this app comes with a comprehensive sleep tracker.

By utilising sound and movement detection, the tracker monitors deep sleep and light sleep durations and provides the user with a sleep efficiency measurement and overall sleep score.

From the MotionX website:

The sleep score is a value from 1 to 100 based on a number of factors. Your sleep efficiency, total sleep duration compared to the number of recommended hours of sleep, the ratio of deep to light sleep and the number of times you awoke during the night all contribute to your score.’

Fullpower were kind enough to let us use the app for the purposes of an experiment we decided to conduct. Tom Lewin, a spokesperson for the technical team at Fullpower, also offered us his insight on the results.

The study

To learn more about how professional life can affect our sleeping patterns, we thought it might be interesting to compare the sleeping habits of five individuals working in very different industries; to gain an insight into how their professional life influences their sleep, and hopefully persuade them to provide some advice on how they overcome the stresses related to their particular job to get a decent night's sleep.

So we put together a test group consisting of the following:

  • a police officer
  • a university student
  • a landscape gardener
  • a secondary school teacher
  • and a chef

To measure their sleeping patterns, we furnished each with the MotionX 24/7 Sleep Tracker app and asked them to record their sleep for a duration of one week.

Here’s what we found:

1. Police officer

TREATED - Sleep Study Results Feb 16 POLICE (1)

  • Highest overall scorer
  • Most consistent sleep efficiency score
  • Chaotic but managed sleep pattern
  • Well within the ideal 7-9 hour average
  • Short average waking time indicates that the respondent has little trouble getting to sleep when going to bed
  • High deep sleep to low sleep ratio

How long have you been a police officer?

‘11 years.’

Were you surprised at the information this experiment revealed about your sleeping habits?

‘Yes. I was surprised to see how much deep sleep it showed when personally I felt had been awake more times and sleep was interrupted.’

Would you consider using a sleep app again?

‘Yes. The app was very easy to use and straightforward. I was impressed with the other features it had to offer such as step counter and voice recording whilst asleep. Due to shift work it would assist in trying to get a good balance and form a routine.’

Do you feel that getting a good night’s sleep is important for your job in particular?

‘Yes. During my work I have to drive at high speeds and use equipment that requires me to be fully alert and make split second decisions. If I was not fully alert this would hinder my role within the police and restrict me from carrying out my daily duties.’

Does stress in your job ever prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep?

‘Yes. Many nights sleep are disrupted by thinking of incidents I have dealt with or upcoming jobs. It is also hard to come home and get in bed and go straight to sleep due to adrenaline and other factors.’

Do you have any tricks or routines to help you get to sleep?

‘I try and relax by walking the dog or watching television until I feel tired.’

Off the top of your head and without looking it up, would you associate lack of sleep with any short or long-term health risks?

‘I do know that it is linked to high blood pressure.’


This respondent has excellent figures despite an irregular pattern of sleep, which at first glance comes as a surprise. This has to be at least in some part due to their sheer experience in this role.

Interesting to note the police officer does have wildly varying bedtimes likely due to their shift pattern,’ Tom concurs, ‘but still manages to get great sleep efficiency and an average of over eight hours of sleep duration. But then they have been on the job for 11 years and are probably just used to this lifestyle.’

After so much time on the force, this respondent’s body has had time to adjust and adapt to the irregular working pattern, which you might even refer to as an ‘anti-routine’.

But as the respondent explained, they’ve also managed to teach themselves how to isolate stress and lower adrenaline levels through undertaking winding down exercises, such as walking the dog or watching television.

Tom notes, however, that this may not always have been the case.

It's too bad we couldn’t go back in time to their first year on the force and see what their sleep looked like in the first year versus what it looks like after 11 years on the job.

The results of a less experienced police officer, getting used to the pattern and the stress of the job, may be markedly different.

2. Student

TREATED - Sleep Study Results Feb 16 STUDENT

  • Traits of a ‘night owl’
  • Comparatively short sleep duration, slightly below the ideal 7-9 hours per night
  • Getting to sleep can take a long time for this respondent
  • Inconsistent sleep efficiency across the week

How did you find using a sleep app?

‘I found it to be easy and straightforward enough to use.’

Were you surprised at the information it revealed about your sleeping habits?

‘I was surprised by how long it usually takes me to fall asleep. It made me realise that I need to factor in the amount of time it actually takes me to fall asleep into my overall sleep schedule in order to get the most efficient night's sleep. It also explained a lot about why I'm usually tired in the mornings. Also, I’m currently in the middle of my third year university exams which could explain this.’

Would you consider using a sleep app again?

‘Yes, I gained a good insight into my sleeping pattern.’

Do you feel that getting a good night's sleep is important for your study?

‘I think getting a good night's sleep is important in order to help me concentrate in lectures, especially morning lectures, and while studying. It was obviously very important during exams week.’

In your opinion, does stress related to your studies ever prevent you from getting a good night's sleep?

‘I feel anxious and nervous before exams and especially if I have a looming assignment deadline which can prevent me from sleeping properly.’

Do you have any tricks or routines to help you get to sleep?

‘Having a dark room and not using any electronics before bed helps me to go to sleep.

Off the top of your head and without looking it up, would you associate lack of sleep with any short or long-term health risks?

‘I think lack of sleep is strongly associated with stress which in turn can cause health risks.’


This respondent’s results are a classic example of the stress of exam week, articulately demonstrated by the late nights necessitated by an intense programme of study and revision.

‘A lot of preconceived notations can be confirmed with the test.’ Tom notes. ‘I would think the student would have late bedtimes and sleep efficiency would be affected by what we would call a typical student lifestyle.’

In this case, the hard study aspects of this lifestyle are evident.

In other student cases, one might speculate that the results would perhaps be similar outside of exam season; with late nights spent socialising and the typical (and less than exemplary) student diet factoring into disrupted sleep patterns.

It’s heartening however to see how helpful the app has been for this respondent, acting as a catalyst for the realisation that they need to take longer waking times into account.

3. Gardener

TREATED - Sleep Study Results Feb 16 GARDENER

  • Traits of an ‘owl’, going to bed later on some nights
  • However some rise times are more in line with those of a ‘lark’
  • Sleep duration score sits comfortably within the ideal 7-9 hour bracket.
  • Efficiency score is fairly consistent
  • High deep sleep to light sleep ratio indicates a sound sleeper
  • Overall score is second highest as a result

How long have you been a gardener?

‘I started full time last year. Prior to that I was doing it part time.’

How did you find using a sleep app?

‘The app itself seemed quite user friendly.’

Were you surprised at the information it revealed about your sleeping habits?

‘I wasn't as I already use a sleep recording app, but the results seemed similar to the ones I already get.’

Do you feel that getting a good night's sleep is important for your job in particular?

‘I feel it's very important for my job as it is labour intensive, and it could be quite dangerous given the locations and machines I use.’

In your opinion, does stress in your job ever prevent you from getting a good night's sleep?

‘My old job (in catering) used to, but now I have much less stress and do a lot more physically demanding work I find I sleep much better.’

Do you have any tricks or routines to help you get to sleep?

‘I use the white noise feature on the sleep app I currently use. I find the routine of hearing that noise every night before sleep helps me drop off.’

Off the top of your head and without looking it up, would you associate lack of sleep with any short or long-term health risks?

‘I certainly feel clumsy and irritable if I haven't slept well, and can imagine things would only deteriorate further in the long term.’


Perhaps the first thing to note is that the respondent is no stranger to measuring their own sleep using an app. This suggests an awareness of their own habits and some knowledge of how to manage them.

It’s also interesting to note that the respondent has recently made the switch from catering (involving shift work) to their current profession, effectively switching from doing an owl’s job to a lark’s job.

Signs of this transition are present in the respondent’s sleeping schedule, still staying up until around midnight or later most nights. It’ll be interesting for the respondent to see how this changes the more accustomed they become to the new schedule over the coming years.

Another interesting point the respondent brings up is their quota of daytime manual labour, and how this helps them to sleep more soundly. Sleep experts believe there is a clear link between exercise and sleep quality, and this is evidenced here.

4. Teacher

TREATED - Sleep Study Results Feb 16 TEACHER

  • Characteristics of a ‘lark’, habitually sticking to early nights and early mornings
  • Strong sleep duration and efficiency scores (right in the middle of the ideal 7-9 hour bracket)
  • Average durations for light sleep and deep sleep are somewhat closer together than other respondents
  • This, along with longer time awake duration, brings the overall sleep score down slightly

How long have you been a teacher?

‘8 years.’

How did you find using a sleep app?

‘I found the app simple to use and easy to navigate. I would like to learn more about the sleep score and what it means about my sleeping habits in practical terms.’

Were you surprised at the information it revealed about your sleeping habits?

‘It was interesting to see light sleep and deep sleep patterns, yet I am fairly routine (or try to be) with my sleep habits.’

Would you consider using a sleep app again?

‘I would consider using the app again, it is quite interesting. I'm not 100% sure about the more intricate details of the readings but it was still interesting to see sleep patterns.’

Do you feel that getting a good night's sleep is important for your job in particular?

‘It is important that I try to sleep well, to try to help me to be on the ball and be able to have the patience necessary to be able to teach. I know that if I'm tired and irritable my patience wanes much more easily. To be able to deliver lessons successfully I do try to get to bed early to try to make sure I get enough sleep. Some nights I end up in bed ridiculously early as I'm so exhausted from the day.’

In your opinion, does stress in your job ever prevent you from getting a good night's sleep?

‘At the time of the study things were quite settled, but I have laid awake before worrying and stressing about work; either tasks that I need to do or trying to remember if I had done something that I was meant to. Also an impending lesson observation or a visit from Ofsted can cause major stress and anxiety will often affect sleep at that time.’

Do you have any tricks or routines to help you get to sleep?

‘I try to be as routine as I can with bedtimes.’

Off the top of your head and without looking it up, would you associate lack of sleep with any short or long-term health risks?

‘Short term, I would definitely say lack of concentration.’


Consistently high sleep efficiency scores seemingly indicate that this respondent has a firm grasp of their own sleep habits, and can anticipate with some degree of accuracy how long they’ll need to spend in bed to get a good night’s rest.

However, what is interesting to note is that during the middle of the week, the light sleep to deep sleep ratio seems to rise to an almost equivalent level. Though the respondent explained that things at work were settled at the time, this rise may suggest that tasks and work matters played on their mind as the week wore on (perhaps more than they realised), which to an extent may have prevented them from falling into a deeper sleep.

As a result, even though the sleep efficiency scores of the teacher were comparable to the police officer and the gardener, their sleep score is lower.

But whether they’ve done it consciously or not, the teacher seems to be aware of their tendency to light sleep, and has compensated by maintaining a pattern of early nights.

5. Chef

TREATED - Sleep Study Results Feb 16 CHEF

  • Tough shift pattern of a chef evidenced by erratic sleep schedule
  • Early mornings and late nights indicate long working hours
  • Sleep duration is within the ideal range as an average over the whole week, but is inconsistent from one night to the next
  • Long average time awake duration and high light sleep to deep sleep ratio
  • Sleep efficiency score is respectable in light of this
  • Overall sleep score however is predictably lower

How long have you been a chef?

‘3 years.’

How did you find using a sleep app?

‘It was easy and efficient.’

Were you surprised at the information it revealed about your sleeping habits?

‘Not really because I know I have very bad sleeping habits due to my job. If anything it showed me that I get even less sleep than I think I do.’

Would you consider using a sleep app again?

‘Yes, I've used sleep apps before and would consider again however in my line of work I just try to sleep whenever I get chance so trying to record a steady sleep routine doesn't feel achievable.’

Do you feel that getting a good night's sleep is important for your job in particular?

‘Yes, little sleep affects my work a lot as I'm a chef and need to concentrate and use dangerous equipment.’

In your opinion, does stress in your job ever prevent you from getting a good night's sleep?

‘Yes. Often.'

Do you have any tricks or routines to help you get to sleep?

‘For the past 4 years I've listened to episodes of comedy shows I know off-by-heart to help me fall asleep. I feel that it works well.’

Off the top of your head and without looking it up, would you associate lack of sleep with any short or long-term health risks?

‘I would imagine so. Sleepless nights have caused me a lot of distress in the past.’


This respondent has the highest light sleep to deep sleep ratio of the test pool, which demonstrates just how much working in a stressful, high pressure environment such as a busy kitchen can influence sleep.

One of my best friends is a chef so I have seen the stress they have to deal with first hand.’ Tom explains. ‘Stress is usually one of the first factors (as well as diet and exercise) we look at when we see someone who has a pretty good sleep duration but their sleep efficiency is low.’

The patterns the chef exhibited throughout the test are likely what we would have seen if we were able to study your police officer in his first year on the job.’

Listening to comedy shows known off by heart is an interesting tactic. It stands to reason that it may help on more sleepless nights, as it effectively trains the mind to feel tired through mental association (in the same way that reading a book or counting sheep might).

Results from a Junior Doctor*

In addition to the five professions listed above, we also ran the test with a junior doctor working in accident and emergency.

However, we have decided to discount this set of results in our comparative study with the other professions, due to potentially unreliable data.

In the case of our doctor, sleep was unfortunately not recorded under the same conditions as those of the other respondents.

The results analysed in isolation, however, do provide something of an insight into a doctor’s working schedule:

  • Low sleep score (potentially reduced even further by improper readings)
  • High efficiency cancelled out by short durational sleeping pattern

Do you have any tricks or routines to help you get to sleep?

‘I occasionally take timed naps and try to catch up on sleep at the weekends. I also find earplugs helpful.’

Off the top of your head and without looking it up, would you associate lack of sleep with any short or long-term health risks?

‘Absolutely (as a doctor I can name quite a few). Long-term it increases the likelihood of stress, obesity, and depression.’


Making the switch from hospital to general practice and vice versa can certainly present a challenge to sleep (most doctors will have had first-hand experience of this during their inaugural years working in the profession).

This particular respondent does seemingly however show a natural sleep aptitude for the erratic nature of working in A&E, as Tom notes:

It was interesting to see the doctor while having a great sleep efficiency had a low sleep score just due to the lack of actual sleep they were getting each night (though, in this particular case, it is hard to tell if that data is a reliable representation of actual sleep).

Lots of doctors do believe the three pillars of health are exercise, diet, and the third is sleep. It does seem like the doctor in the study is just one of those people that would need less sleep than the average person. This would most likely mean that they could lower their sleep goal from seven hours to five or five and a half hours.

Lowering their sleep goal would change their sleep score and effectively their results would indicate a ‘better’ sleeper in this study.

The full results

TREATED - Sleep Study Results Feb 16 RESULTS

What do these results tell us?

Though most of us are aware of it to some extent, perhaps the most striking observation that can be made from the above is just how strong the relationship between stress and sleep (or rather the lack of it) is.

While it appears from the police officer’s results that the body is capable of adapting over time to irregular sleeping patterns, this may not be the case for everyone.

The police officer has discovered particular techniques which seem to work for them in reducing stress; whereas the chef (perhaps because they're newer to the role, or perhaps because the shift pattern is the least kind of the above) appears to be facing more of a challenge.

What’s more, duration doesn’t necessarily equal quality. Following the teacher’s example by going to bed at a reasonable time is a healthy habit to get into; but taking measures to de-stress before hitting the pillow is perhaps just as important.

To find out more about how MotionX 24/7 works, visit their website or check them out on the app store.