Workplace Bullying Can Cost You a Good Night’s Sleep


Workplace bullying can be a problem in any workplace. And all Canadian employers have a duty to prevent and address it. Bullying impacts workers in many ways. It can lead to depression and drive workers to quit. It can escalate into violence, resulting in suicides and even murders. But a study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine shows that workplace bullying can have an even more basic impact on workers—it can keep them awake at night.

Relationship Between Sleep & Bullying

The study, which was published in the Sept. 2009 issue of the journal SLEEP, found that people who are intimidated, insulted or otherwise harassed on the job are more likely to have sleep disturbances than are other workers.

The study involved more than 7,600 middle-aged workers in southeast France. The participants answered questionnaires regarding their work environment and ability to fall asleep and return to sleep after early awakenings. For the study’s purposes, 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.” When analyzing the results, researchers took into account other factors that can affect sleep, such as age, occupation, work hours and symptoms of depression.

The results:

  • 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.
  • 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 bullying now or in the past had more than two times the sleep disturbances as men who hadn’t faced bullying.
  • The more often workers were bullied on the job, the more likely they were to have sleeping difficulties.

Just Seeing Bullying Affects Sleep

Those who saw someone else being bullied also experienced sleep problems. Slightly more than a third of workers said they witnessed bullying on the job in the previous 12 months. Among these “observers”:

  • 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.

Bottom line: As if there weren’t already enough reasons to prevent bullying in the workplace, this study provides more evidence that greater efforts are needed to address this problem.