Why Working 9 to 5 Might Be Bad for Your Health

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: May 28, 2013

Welcome to the World of Sleep Disorders

Not everybody is cut out for the 9-to-5 workaday world.

Mounting evidence demonstrates half a million Americans have biological reasons for needing to work alternative shifts. In this fourth story (read Part I, Part II, and Part III here) about delayed sleep phase syndrome (also DSPS, or delayed sleep), you’ll meet Julie Peggar, an ethnographer who suffers from this type of circadian rhythm disorder. Peggar, the president and chief storyteller at Gaze Ethnographic Consulting, Inc., shares insights from her world as a highly functional night owl who adapts her work schedule to her sleep needs as much as possible.

Switch from the Day Shift to the Evening Shift

When Peggar was in college, a doctor at the campus medical center suggested her unusual sleep habits could actually be delayed sleep phase syndrome.

“I had been working the 3 p.m. to 12 a.m. shift at a homeless shelter, but I got promoted,” she says. “That involved moving to a day shift, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. I was only sleeping a few hours a night after the promotion. And after taking a history, the doctor suggested it could be DSPS. I quit that job and demoted myself to go back to the evening shift.”

Balancing a Night Owl's Needs with Career Demands

How has Peggar balanced her night-owl's needs with the workaday world?

"It's been a challenge," she says. And it wasn’t until graduate school she realized she could do meaningful work outside traditional work hours. “I've done a lot of freelancing, consulting, and now I own my own company," says Peggar. She says that being self-employed helps, but adds, "It's still tricky when you have to meet the needs of your clients, especially those in a different time zone."

A Night Owl's Career Path

“I decided against several potentially interesting career paths solely due to the fact that they required early morning hours,” says Peggar, who considered medical school, law school, and teaching high school, and rejected them all for that reason. She adds, “In the end though, I think it led me to a more independent way of working that I might not have given myself the freedom to pursue otherwise.”

Peggar says she’s tried to hold down in-house research jobs with normal working hours, but “not only does that fail to work with my sleep patterns, it's not a good fit for the type of research that I do anyway.” She says she’s a better ethnographer when she doesn’t feel like she has to stick to traditional business hours. Instead, she can spend time with participants when it makes sense to do so—which is often after their working hours or on weekends.

However, she notes some exceptions: “Of course there are times I may be studying how people eat breakfast or how people work within an office with traditional hours, so I have to power through it. When that happens, I just plan a rest day after the fieldwork to catch up on sleep.”

What to Do About Travel

Peggar’s demanding occupation involves a lot of travel crossing time zones, which is particularly challenging for a delayed sleep sufferer. So how is she successful despite that?

“I try to build in rest days before, during, and after the fieldwork,” she says. “These might not be days when I actually ‘rest,’ but days where I have a fieldwork immersion in the evening rather than in the morning, so I'm not waking up at 6 a.m. EST — which is 3 a.m. my normal time, and closer to my bedtime than my wakeup time! — for 10 days in a row or some such thing.”

Should Employers Accommodate DSPS Sufferers?

Peggar says she doesn’t know how and when it makes sense for someone with delayed sleep to ask for an accommodation from their employer. “I've never asked for an accommodation. Instead, I seek out work with flexible hours built in and I assume that I will sometimes have to push through feeling terrible in order to get a job done.”

Peggar adds if she did take on a position, like early on in her career when she worked at certain office jobs in which she found herself getting sick and unable to perform due to her delayed sleep, she would leave and find another job. “I don't do that now,” she says, because she has become better at knowing her limits and what it takes to deliver amazing work for her clients.

“I really don't expect employers or clients to accommodate me,” says Peggar. “I do, however, often tell new clients that my meeting hours are from noon to 6:00 p.m., with rare exceptions. This doesn't work very well on team projects, but setting boundaries does give me some control in running my own business. Even without DSPS, I would still set boundaries with regard to my time so that I can focus on the actual research rather than getting bogged down in administrative details.”

Career Advice for DSPS Sufferers

“Don't be afraid to step out on your own, and to set boundaries when you need to do so,” says Peggar. She says working for yourself can be scary and takes a lot of discipline, but it’s better than wasting your talent just because others expect you to only use it during traditional work hours. Her advice to delayed sleep sufferers: “Create your own job!”

“I would suggest finding a skill or talent that you have, and giving self-employment a shot,” she says. “Freelancing, consulting, creating and selling something you're good at making—don't rely on the traditional system. Do it your way! Make a system that works for you.”

In the next installment of this series, you’ll meet a woman from Melbourne who contends that her 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. studies to become an engineering design drafter nearly killed her because she naturally goes to sleep after 3 a.m. and had to wake up each weekday at 7 a.m. But she turned things around when she discovered light therapy, which enabled her to work a 9-to-5 job.

Let Salary.com Help You

Whether you work a traditional 9-to-5 job or you've found an alternative shift to better suit you, you'll still have to negotiate a fair salary. Luckily Salary.com can help.

The first thing you should do is research, so you're able to come to the table armed with the knowledge of what your job is worth. Use our free Salary Wizard below to find out what's a fair salary for your position. You can enter your location, education level, years of experience and more to find out an appropriate salary range before you negotiate.

Good luck.