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Insomnia plagues 23 percent of US workforce: Should employers intervene?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

In a new finding, researchers estimate that 23 percent of the U.S. workforce suffers from insomnia. The annual cost to employers is $63.2 billion and 257.2 days in lost productivity annually. The finding suggests it may be worthwhile for employers to invest on interventions to help employees get better sleep.

Researchers say they were “shocked” to find the "enormous impact” of insomnia in the workplace that is largely ignored by employers because it’s not considered an illness and typically doesn’t lead to time away from work.

Cost of insomnia underappreciated by employers

According to lead author Ronald C. Kessler, Ph.D., Insomnia is "… an underappreciated problem. Americans are not missing work because of insomnia. They are still going to their jobs but accomplishing less because they're tired. In an information-based economy, it's difficult to find a condition that has a greater effect on productivity."

In the study, "Insomnia and the performance of US workers: Results from the America Insomnia Survey”, researchers found working women suffer higher rates of insomnia than do men.

"Now that we know how much insomnia costs the American workplace, the question for employers is whether the price of intervention is worthwhile," said Kessler, a psychiatric epidemiologist with the Department of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School. "Can U.S. employers afford not to address insomnia in workplace?"

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James K. Walsh, Ph.D., executive director and senior scientist at the Sleep Medicine and Research Center at St. Luke's Hospital in Chesterfield, Mo. Says a sleeping pill costs about $200 a year. Interestingly, the study was sponsored by the Merck & Co.

Behavioral therapy to treat insomnia costs approximately $1200 a year says Walsh.

The finding comes from a national sampling of 7,428 employees who were asked about sleep habits and performance at work. The study was funded by the Sanofi-Aventis Groupe.

The highest rates of the disorder were found among employees with a high school and some college education, at 25.3 and 26.4 percent respectively. Employees over age 65 were less likely to report sleep disturbance.

Less educated people in the workforce were affected the least. The participants were part of the larger American Insomnia Study. The results are published in the journal Sleep.

The pharmaceutical sponsored and funded study suggests interventions from employers could help insomniacs in the workforce with disease management programs. The authors concluded more studies are needed "to obtain precise estimates of return-on-investment of such interventions from the employer perspective."

The finding identified a huge financial impact from lost productivity in the workplace that comes from employees suffering with insomnia. According to the estimates, U.S. workers lose 11.3 days, or $2,280 in productivity annually because they can’t sleep.

Updated 12/23/2014