30 January 2017

RESEARCH - Lack of Sleep Costs Economy Hundreds of Billions of Dollars

Researchers at not-for-profit RAND Europe, part of the RAND Corporation, examined the sleep habits of workers and found that along with personal health risks, sleep deprivation is costing the economy hundreds of billions of dollars.

The study, Why Sleep Matters – The Economic Costs of Insufficient Sleep, is the first of its kind to quantify the economic losses due to lack of sleep among workers in five different countries—the US, UK, Canada, Germany, and Japan.

Results show a lack of sleep among the US working population is costing the economy up to $411 billion a year, which is 2.28 percent of the country's GDP.

In total, the US loses just over 1.2 million working days a year due to sleep deprivation among its working population.

Productivity losses at work occur through a combination of employees not being at work and employees who are present but working at a sub-optimal level.

Japan loses up to $138 billion, which is 2.92 percent of its GDP, and around 600,000 working days annually.

Germany (up to $60 billion, or 1.56 percent of its GDP, and just over 200,000 working days lost) and the U.K (up to $50 billion, which is 1.86 percent of its GDP, and just over 200,000 working days lost) have similar losses.

Canada had the best sleep outcomes, but still has significant financial and productivity losses (up to $21.4 billion, which is around 1.35 percent of its GDP, and just under 80,000 working days lost).

The study also determined a person who sleeps on average less than six hours a night has a 13 percent higher mortality risk than someone sleeping between seven and nine hours, while those sleeping between six and seven hours a day have a 7 percent higher mortality risk.

Sleeping between seven and nine hours per night is described as the healthy daily sleep range for adults.

“Our study shows that the effects from a lack of sleep are massive. Sleep deprivation not only influences an individual's health and wellbeing but has a significant impact on a nation's economy, with lower productivity levels and a higher mortality risk among workers,” Marco Hafner, RAND research leader, said in a release.

Increasing nightly sleep from under six hours to between six and seven hours could add $226.4 billion to the US economy.

Lack of sleep is associated with lifestyle factors related to a modern, connected society, such as psychosocial stress, alcohol consumption, smoking, lack of physical activity and excessive electronic media use, as well as job related stress.

2016 research by the Conference Board of Canada indicated that 27 per cent of workers surveyed report being fatigued most days or every day during a typical work week.

“The harmful effects of fatigue are numerous, and in some cases, comparable to the effects of alcohol,” said Mary-Lou MacDonald, Director, Workplace Health, Wellness and Safety Research, The Conference Board of Canada.

“Employers that proactively address their employees’ fatigue will have a more productive workforce and a safer working environment.”

Recommendations from RAND Europe include:
  • To improve sleep outcomes, individuals should: Set consistent wake-up times; limit the use of electronic items before bedtime; and exercise.
  • Employers should: Recognise the importance of sleep and the employer's role in its promotion; design and build brighter workspaces; combat workplace psychosocial risks; and discourage the extended use of electronic devices.
  • Public authorities should: Support health professionals in providing sleep-related help; encourage employers to pay attention to sleep issues; and introduce later school starting times.

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