Can getting enough high quality sleep cancel out the harmful effects of overtime work or not getting enough vacation?

Recently, articles said that taking less than 3 weeks of vacation increases the risk of death by 37%! The study even found that a healthy diet and exercise doesn't even help but didn't seem to talk about whether sleep would cancel out the harmful effects. Subjects could report how much sleep they got and the study could take it into account. Here's one in the UK's Daily Mail which reported a study in Helsinki by Strandberg, et al. (2018) and according to the report, taking 3 weeks of vacation per year extends your life.

If high quality sleep can really cancel out the harmful effects, someone could work around 14 hours five days a week without harmful effects. I left 10 hours because sleep efficiency can only go so high, and we need time for breaks, exercise, healthy eating, etc.

If sleep is the main factor, then those with insomnia need to find ways to sleep well if they want to benefit from the vacations. For those who need to catch up on sleep, it could mean half day vacations so that it's effectively a sleep vacation. Someone might start work in the afternoon so that it's possible to sleep in for a few extra days.

Correction The study actually said that the subjects slept less when taking shorter vacations.


Strandberg, T. E., Räikkönen, K., Salomaa, V., Strandberg, A., Kautiainen, H., Kivimäki, M., ... & Huttunen, J. (2018). Increased Mortality Despite Successful Multifactorial Cardiovascular Risk Reduction in Healthy Men: 40-Year Follow-Up of the Helsinki Businessmen Study Intervention Trial. The journal of nutrition, health & aging, 1-7. doi: 10.1007/s12603-018-1099-0

  • Why do you think sleep might be a deciding factor? Most people don't have insomnia and sleep just as well when they're working as they do on vacation, and those people were presumably represented equally in the study population.
    – Carey Gregory
    Sep 8 '18 at 0:50
  • I assume that people are likelier to cut back on sleep when they work longer hours. Lack of sleep is common in college students. It couldn't be caused by poor diet or lack of exercise from the lack of time because they were taken care by of the study.
    – Brian
    Sep 13 '18 at 5:56
  • Actually, the study said that they slept less when taking shorter vacations. Sorry for my misreading. It didn't say whether it was because they were used to ignoring their feelings of sleepiness, higher stress makes a person feel less sleepy or feel like they need less sleep, or whether they slept more outside of vacations when they were longer. I still feel that it's easier to tell whether it was the long hours itself that was unhealthy if they adjusted for sleep since sleep is considered as important for health as diet and exercise, if not more.
    – Brian
    Sep 13 '18 at 6:06

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