Healthy Sleep and Good Money – Which Professions Offer Both?

Some professions can make it possible to balance your monthly income with a healthy, sensible sleep schedule.

Written by:

Tanya Hodgson

, Sleep Researcher
Last Updated: Sun, October 6, 2019
Fact checked by:

Marko Jevtic

, Sleep Specialist

If you ask any hard-working adult you can find, chances are high that you’ll hear complaints about how little they sleep. The idea that you can either make a lot of money or sleep well (and not both) is widespread enough to be considered an ingrained part of our common knowledge. Stories of incredibly busy executives, writers, and shift workers hover in casual conversations, convincing people that sleep is something you have to sacrifice in order to make enough money to live comfortably. Due to how finances play into our daily life, most people prioritize money over sleep if they feel like they have to choose only one.

But do they? There may be professions you can aim for if you want to balance your monthly income with a healthy, sensible sleep schedule. This article aims to explore just that and provide info on where you can get a job that allows you to get enough rest to avoid illness and fatigue. We will look at various fields and use the American Time Use Survey (ATUS, published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics) to determine who gets paid the most and who sleeps the most. The idea that career success often has to come at the cost of the person’s health doesn’t hold as much water as some people claim, fortunately. However, there is some truth in such claims. Let’s get into it.


What Was Our Methodology?

We were mainly concerned with US residents and their average income and amount of time spent asleep per night (on average). In order to get reliable information, we looked towards the ATUS. This survey was conducted with 10,000 respondents, and the information they willingly revealed about their monthly income, sleep, and other factors. This data was contained within three separate yet connected ATUS resources, each of which was designed to collect specific types of information from the respondents. The sources we consulted were:

Getting the data is only the first step. With this information “in hand,” we could start our analysis. The second step was to reduce the number of entries only to those that would fit our criteria. It means we were forced to remove entries where the respondent did not provide necessary information about their wage and work schedule (meaning their precise work hours, more or less). This filter alone reduced the number of entries to around 3,150, but we were not finished. It was important to establish a strict set of criteria, which meant the removal of entries where subjective interpretations caused skewed responses when it came to employment status (where the respondents would give vague or non-specific answers due to working as contractors or working part-time). At the end of our filtration and limitation process, we were left with a rough figure of 1500 respondents. While it’s hard to assume that our numbers mirror the population at large, we consider it a suitable enough sample size to make the estimate we needed to make.


The Results

The ultimate goal was to compare professions based on how much money they generate and how much sleep they tend to allow (or “take away”). The results were mixed in the sense that some of the estimates follow what you might hear in casual conversations among non-specialists, whereas others deviated further from our original expectations from when we began this process. As a whole, we’ve discovered that there is a considerable amount of truth behind the idea that good salaries often “necessitate” bad sleeping habits, not every profession fits into this mold. We will list a good amount of professions to paint a clear picture as to where you should seek employment if you value your sleeping hours (which you should, for the sake of your health and the safety of those around you).

For example, it shouldn’t surprise you that lawyers and other legal specialists generate some of the highest salaries (often earning around $1850 over the course of a 42-hour work week on average). However, this comes at a cost – with legal specialists being closer to the lower extreme of hours spent asleep (with an average of 7.2 hours per day, but frequent situations where they get less than 6 hours in a given night). Legal cases impose a lot of stress on the worker and often demand extra hours of effort, which can all add up to a very unstable sleeping schedule and frequent scenarios where the person is functioning on a small amount of sleep. Additionally, there is a large pay gap between the lower and higher ends of the legal hierarchy, to the point where paralegal specialists and people in similar positions often don’t make enough money to justify the hit to their sleep schedules.  

One of the worst possible places to be in your career is the position of a healthcare assistant or medical aide. These jobs are demanding and stressful, creating a problem where it’s very hard to hit the recommended value of 8 hours of sleep per night, especially since shift work is often involved (we will talk about this separately, later on in the article). In the worst case scenario, a person in this position may expect to go to work with less than 6 hours of rest the previous night. The reward for this level of effort is nothing to brag about either – healthcare assistants and aides make an average of $426 per week, which is definitely one of the lowest figures we’ve noticed.

If you’re looking for good rest but aren’t bothered by a low salary (for whatever reason), you want to look towards food service or personal care industries. Bartenders, hairdressers, and waiters average in at close to 9 hours of sleep per night on average, which is more than enough to keep you healthy and energized. However, these positions often come with some of the worst salaries you can find, with an average value of around $400 or slightly less.

Working in the art industry can mean many things, but in this case, we will focus on graphic designers, fine art, film editing, and 3d model work. You most likely won’t find an optimal amount of sleep in these fields. The average amount of hours spent sleeping per night hovers at around 7, with situations where you have to sleep for roughly 5.5 hours on some days. However, the pay isn’t bad at all – work schedules that demand only around 32 hours of work each week can result in salaries of $1050. If you’re really lucky (or simply amazing at your job), you could see salaries that approach $1700-1800, which makes jobs like graphic design incredibly appealing.

One of the most rewarding professions when it comes to both monthly income and sleep economy is coding. Programmers and math scientists regularly clock in almost 8 hours of sleep per night, which lets them focus on their work that much more effectively. This increase in efficiency may have something to do with their earnings – programmers usually work around 50 hours per week (at worst), but they rake in almost as much money as lawyers (who have to work a lot more) – around $1750 per month on average. If you’re trying to choose something to study, coding may be the way to go, as it is always in demand (and seems to be accelerating due to the exponential growth of technology in the modern age). You get to sleep a lot and also improve your life using a chunky salary.


Workplace Risks and Sleep

While it’s safe to consider any job unhealthy for your sleep if it offers you less than 7 hours of sleep per night on average, there are other, less obvious problems to consider. Fatigue (often called excessive daytime sleepiness) is the most common result of any sleeping problem (including sleep disorders), and it causes the person in question to become way less efficient at virtually anything they do. Your perception gets considerably worse, and you start to miss things you would notice on more hours of sleep. You become more prone to taking risks, and your memory, hand-eye coordination, and similar things take a massive drop in quality.

As a result of all this, workplace accidents become more likely when you’re involved, if you have fatigue. Some job positions put you at more risk simply through what you have to do to perform your job. We’ll use transportation jobs as an example – both drivers and pilots are put in potentially extreme danger if they’re sleep-deprived. They endanger not only themselves but also their passengers and anyone in the immediate area. Driving jobs often don’t limit your ability to get proper rest, but they’re the worst possible thing you could be doing if you’re heavily fatigued. Drivers sadly also make poor salaries.

Keep in mind that any kind of job that involves mandatory shift work is practically guaranteed to ruin your sleep schedule and cause lots of fatigue, even if it pays well. Sometimes the hours spent working don’t mean everything, as the nature of the job could expose you to health risks or direct physical danger. Know what you’re getting into when applying for work – a person with an established sleep disorder should not work in positions that require precision or good reflexes, for example.


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Tanya is a professional writer and editor with a B.A. in English from the University of Chicago. Tanya has been fighting insomnia for most of her adult life, and she knows firsthand how vital a good night’s rest can be for people with sleep problems.

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