Insufficient sleep is costing countries billions annually because of low productivity



The United States loses 1.23 million working days and up to $411 billion per year because of insufficient sleep in workers, and the problem extends to a substantial economic toll and increased health-related costs in other countries worldwide, according to a cross-country comparative analysis.

A sad-looking woman trying to sleep Wavebreak Media/Thinkstockphotos

“Our study shows that the effects from a lack of sleep are massive. Sleep deprivation not only influences an individual’s health and well-being but has a significant impact on a nation’s economy, with lower productivity levels and a higher mortality risk among workers,” Marco Hafner, a research leader at RAND Europe and the report’s main author, stated in a press release.

Mr. Hafner and his colleagues analyzed data from 62,366 employees from the Britain’s Healthiest Workplace competition during 2015 and 2016 to determine factors affecting lack of sleep. Specifically, they found people who were overweight or obese slept an average of 2.5 minutes to 7 minutes less each day, compared with people at a healthy body mass index. Smoking was identified as a factor associated with insufficient sleep, and people who smoke slept 5 fewer minutes per day, compared with nonsmokers. People who had more than two sugary drinks per day slept an average of 3.4 minutes less per day, compared with those who consumed less or no sugary drinks. The authors noted people who performed 120 minutes of physical activity or less per day and people with a medium to high risk of mental health problems slept an average of 2.6 minutes and 17.2 minutes less each day, respectively.

Regarding workplace-associated factors for insufficient sleep, the authors found lack of choice in their work routine was associated with 2.3 minutes less sleep per day, and those who worked irregular hours slept 2.7 minutes less per day on average; people with workplace stress and unrealistic time pressures slept 8 minutes less per day on average. Commuters slept 9.3 minutes less per day if they had a 30- to 60-minute commute to work, while those who had a commute longer than 60 minutes slept 16.5 minutes less per day than people with shorter commutes.

The authors also found the following personal and sociodemographic factors were associated with insufficient sleep:

  • People who had financial concerns slept 10 minutes less per day, compared with people who did not have financial concerns.
  • Unpaid care was associated with an average of 5 minutes less sleep per day.
  • People with dependent children under 18 years old in the same household slept an average of 4.2 minutes less daily.
  • Men slept 9 minutes less per day, compared, with women.
  • Never being married was associated with sleeping an average of 4.8 minutes less per day, while people who were separated from their partner slept an average of 6.5 minutes less per day.

“At first glance, the estimates of minutes of sleep lost due to the various factors outlined above may seem small,” the authors wrote in their report. “However, it is important to stress that the estimates represent the effect on sleep duration of each single factor, holding all other factors constant.”

That lost sleep can significantly affect a person’s health, the authors noted. Sleeping less than 6 hours per night was associated with a 13% increased risk in all-cause mortality and a person sleeping between 6 hours and 7 hours per night had a 7% increased risk of all-cause mortality, compared with people who slept between 7 hours and 9 hours per night.

Insufficient sleep can also affect workplace productivity, with factors such as absenteeism and presenteeism (working while tired) affecting performance at work because of loss of sleep. There was a 1.5% higher productivity loss among people sleeping between 6 hours and 7 hours of sleep per night, compared with people who slept between 7 hours and 9 hours a night, which the authors estimated would cost an employer 6 working days per year for a person sleeping less than 6 hours per night.

In the United States, the authors reported 1.23 million working days (9.9 million working hours) are lost per year because of lack of sleep. They studied four other member countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and found similar results: Japan loses 0.6 million working days (4.8 million working hours) per year, the United Kingdom loses 207,224 working days (1.6 million working hours), Germany loses 209,024 working days (1.6 million working hours), and Canada loses 78,861 working days (630,886 working hours) annually because of insufficient sleep among workers. In total, the report estimates lack of sleep costs approximately $680 billion for these countries.

The authors encouraged individuals, employers, and countries to adopt policies that would lessen the economic impact of insufficient sleep and improve sleep outcomes. For individuals, recommendations included setting a consistent wake-up time, limiting electronic devices before sleep, limiting intake of substances such as caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine prior to sleep, and increasing physical activity. Employers were encouraged to recognize the benefits that getting a full night’s sleep has for their employees, adopt routines that improve their employees’ sleep outcomes, and limit use of electronic devices outside office hours. Public health authorities were encouraged to create awareness campaigns and activities supporting sleep-related help and implementing more efficient public schedules such as delayed school starting times.

“Improving individual sleep habits and duration has huge implications, with our research showing that simple changes can make a big difference,” Mr. Hafner stated in a press release. “For example, if those who sleep under 6 hours a night increase their sleep to between 6 and 7 hours a night, this could add $226.4 billion to the U.S. economy.”

The authors report no relevant conflicts of interest.

SOURCE: Hafner M et al. RAND Corporation .

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