The High Cost of Insomnia

Many articles have been written about the effects of insomnia on individual health. Studies of those suffering from insomnia have indicated that chronic sleeplessness can lead to sharply increased mortality rates and a weakening of the immune system that leaves sufferers more prone to contracting conditions such as hypertension and psychological disorders. But two studies indicate that the cost of insomnia is not limited to the individuals who experience it – it also affects the companies they work for, to the tune of billions of dollars per year.

Insomnia causes workplace errors and accidents, which cost money

In research published in Archives of General Psychiatry, a study of over 10,000 working adults revealed that over 20% of them had experienced periods of insomnia that lasted over a year. Study participants were asked in confidential questionnaires whether their lack of sleep had an impact on their work. They were asked to list any errors of judgment or mistakes they had made or accidents they had caused as a result of their insomnia that had cost the companies they worked for more than $500.

The results of the survey were sobering. The researchers found that mistakes due to insomnia and either falling asleep on the job or being too tired to perform their jobs properly were more costly than other types of errors; insomnia-related errors cost the companies of the study participants $32,062, whereas non-insomnia related errors cost $21,914. Extrapolating from these figures, the researchers determined that insomnia may be linked to as many as 274,000 errors and accidents in the workplace per year, costing employers 31.1 billion dollars.

An earlier study conducted by Harvard Medical School and reported in the journal SLEEP suggested even higher costs due to insomnia. These researchers surveyed 7,248 workers across the country and found that 23% of them had insomnia-related problems that caused them difficulties at work. The insomniacs in this study reported that they were often too tired to work, and resulted in at least eight lost days of work per year, at an average cost to their employers of $2,280 per person. Again extrapolating these figures to the entire nation, the researchers estimated that insomnia costs the U.S. economy 63 billion dollars per year.

So if you suffer from insomnia, it’s not just affecting you

Lack of sleep not only affects your health, it can affect the bottom line of the companies you work for, and even the safety of yourself and your fellow workers. Before you run to your doctor to get a prescription for sleeping pills, however, you might try a few natural remedies that have enabled other people to fall asleep more easily:

• Take a warm bath. Many insomnia sufferers have found that taking a warm (not hot) bath before going to bed helps them to fall asleep more easily. Since the warm water can help to relieve and dissipate the stresses of the day, this might work for you as well.

• Have a glass of warm milk. Although studies have disproved the once-held belief that l-tryptophan in milk would aid sleep, other studies have found that warm milk is (in the words of a New York Times article on insomnia) “as soothing as a favorite old blanket.”

• Imagine peaceful activities. A 2002 study indicates that while “counting sheep” may work for some people, thinking about a soothing environment such as the beach where you spent your last relaxing vacation may help a great deal more.

• Don’t forget to breathe. Many insomnia sufferers have found it easier to get to sleep after performing yoga breathing exercises, which have a meditative effect and can help to lower the heart rate and relieve stress.

• Be careful with alcohol. While having a drink at the end of a long day can help you to unwind, drinking alcohol immediately before bed can disrupt sleep. People who drink before sleeping have a tendency to wake up more times during the night and not be able to get back to sleep. So have your glass of wine with dinner, but give it a chance to metabolize before going to bed.

• Try listening to music. One sleep study conducted in 2005 found that listening to music for 45 minutes prior to sleeping resulted in a 35% improvement in being able to fall asleep. If you give this a try, the music should slow (60-80 beats per minute) and played at low volumes.

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Juliette Siegfried, MPH

Juliette Siegfried, MPH, has been involved in health communications since 1991. Shortly after obtaining her Master of Public Health degree, she began her career at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Juliette now lives in Europe, where she launched ServingMed(.)com, a small medical writing and editing business for health professionals all over the world.

Juliette's resume, facebook: juliette.siegfriedmph, linkedin: juliettes, (+31) 683 673 767

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