Sleepy at Work: Health and Economic Burden of Insomnia in the Workplace

Sleep is a basic human need in much the same way as nutrition. It is one of the most important factors to maintain good health, and humans spend one-third of their lifetime asleep. For many, sleeping is easy; however, some people find this a difficult task. This difficulty sleeping is known as insomnia. Reduced sleep duration has been linked to 7 of the 15 leading causes of death in the U.S., including cardiovascular disease, malignant neoplasm, cerebrovascular disease, accidents, diabetes, hypertension and premature death. Around 30% of adults suffer from insomnia, and 10% of insomniacs experience severe insomnia. Furthermore, insomnia has a huge impact on the quality of life (QOL), as poor quality of sleep lowers the QOL dramatically. The societal burden of insomnia in the United States is substantial, with an estimated one-third of all US adults experiencing weekly difficulties with nighttime sleep, and around 50-70 million people complaining of nighttime sleep loss associated with daytime impairment. The reasons why most people don’t get enough sleep are obvious, and include technological advances, globalization, and increased competitive threats that have contributed to the fast-paced, 24/7, “always-on” environment we experience today. Insomnia is associated with a range of negative effects on functioning, from increased sleepiness and fatigue, to reduced psychomotor performance, memory consolidation, and affect regulation, leading to significant workplace deficits. The financial impacts of sleep deprivation and sleep disorders may be categorized as direct (i.e., costs of medical resource utilization, including the consumption of inpatient, outpatient, and pharmaceutical services within the health care delivery system) or indirect (i.e., expenses incurred from absenteeism, reduced work productivity, and increased workplace errors and accidents). Insomnia is estimated to cost U.S. businesses more than $63 billion in absenteeism and reduced workplace productivity, with accidents and occupational injuries adding up to $31 billion lost annually. As for the five most developed OECD countries, up to $680 billion of economic output is lost every year due to sleep problems. As sleep deficiency adversely affects both individual employees and their employers, solving the problem of insufficient sleep, would thus represent a ‘win-win’ situation.
The employers should also be aware that even a short-term sleep deprivation can cause mental, emotional and physical health to suffer, making it essential to correct any sleep problems before they worsen. Therefore, investing in training programs related to improving the quality of sleep, is of major importance in building healthy and thriving workplace environments.

Author:

Zoran M Pavlovic