Insomnia and Lack of Productivity Costs United States Over $63 Billion Annually

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Insomnia and related lack of productivity at work is costing the United States up to $63.2 billion annually.

Lack of sleep has been linked to a variety of health problems ranging from high blood pressure to depression. Insomnia may even cause early death. One of the hidden problems of insomnia is a lack of productivity at work, costing the United States up to $63.2 billion each year.

Insomnia costs the average American worker 11.3 days, adding up to $2,280 in lost productivity annually. American Insomnia Study researchers collected data on a representative sample of 7,428 full-time workers. Survey questions related to sleep habits and work performance.

Lead author of the study, Ronald C. Kessler, is a psychiatric epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School. Time reports Kessler said, “It's an underappreciated problem. Americans are not missing work because of insomnia. They are still going to their jobs but accomplishing less because they are tired. In an information-based economy, it's difficult to find a condition that has a greater effect on productivity.”

With 23% of employees participating in the study suffering from insomnia, the problem is serious. The study found men are less likely to experience loss of sleep than women and employees over 65 are least likely to have insomnia.

According to CNN, Kessler continued, “Employers these days want their workers to stay home if they're sick. If they know you're absent, they can at least find ways to fill in for you. But you can't stay home every day if you're chronically sleep deprived, so these people get in the habit of going to work and then not performing.”

Up to 50 to 70 million people complain of daytime impairment associated with difficulty sleeping at night. Clete Kushida, a neurologist and sleep-medicine specialist at Stanford University School of Medicine, said, “There appears to be more insomnia, given more work and family responsibilities, and more technological improvements and distractions. These result in more stress that can precipitate worsened sleep.”

Kessler opined, “What really needs to happen is for employers to set up programs in their own workplaces.” Medication and behavioral therapy are viable options for people facing loss of sleep and related lack of productivity. It costs an estimated $200 annually for a sleep aid and around $1,200 per year to cover the cost of behavior modification therapy. Employers may find it worthwhile to screen and treat employees' sleep issues to boost productivity.

According to Kushida, “Those with insomnia typically would have fatigue and tiredness, poor concentration, decreased memory and mood changes. Many people do not take sleep loss or its effects seriously, or they diminish its impact on their daily life.”

Often people try to fuel up with a cup of coffee after a sleepless night. Kessler said, “Every convenience store sells energy drink shots, and every office has a coffeepot that we stagger to first thing in the morning. Instead of trying to improve our sleep, we're trying to put something in our mouths just to get us through the day.”

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, insomnia is “difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep, or having nonrefreshing sleep for at least 1 month.” While each person is different, typically people need at least 6-8 hours of sleep each night. Common causes of insomnia include anxiety, alcohol, stress and coffee or a possible medication condition such as depression. Symptoms include trouble falling asleep, not feeling refreshed upon waking up, feeling tired during the day or waking up several times during the night.

To find out if a person has insomnia, health care providers perform a physical exam and inquire about drug use and medical history. An overnight sleep study, polysomnography, helps rule out other sleep disorders such as sleep apnea. Insomnia treatment is referred to as sleep hygiene and may include avoiding nicotine, alcohol and coffee before bed, exercising at least 2 hours before bedtime, going to bed at the same time, eating at regular times, removing anxiety, staying comfortable and steering clear of daytime naps.

Kessler's study is published in the journal “Sleep,” which is an outgrowth of the American Insomnia Survey research project led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Harvard Medical School. The project began in 2008 and was funded by Sanofi Aventis, maker of Ambien. The current study was funded by Merck, which is currently developing a new insomnia drug.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

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