The average American worker loses 11.3 days in lost productivity annually because of insomnia; that is equivalent to a loss of $2,280 each, researchers report in the journal Sleep. Insomnia is a condition characterized by difficulty falling asleep and remaining asleep. It includes a wide spectrum of sleep disorders, from not enough sleep to lack of quality sleep.

Ronald Kessler, lead author, Harvard Medical School, said:

“We were shocked by the enormous impact insomnia has on the average person’s life. 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’re tired. In an information-based economy, it’s difficult to find a condition that has a greater effect on productivity.”

Insomnia is sometimes separated into three kinds:

  • Transient insomnia – symptoms last for only a few days or weeks at the most.
  • Acute (short-term) insomnia – symptoms last for several weeks.
  • Chronic insomnia – symptoms last for some months and even years.

All age groups can be affected by insomnia. More adult females are affected than adult males.

Insomnia can lead to anxiety, depression, obesity, poor work/school performance. It can also undermine a human’s immune system, which in turn raises the risk and severity of long-term disease.

In this study, Kessier and team gathered data on 7,428 employees from the American Insomnia Study, which was funded by pharmaceutical company Sanofi-Aventis. The individuals were asked about their sleeping patterns, work performance, among other questions.

They found that 23.2% of the participants had insomnia. While workers aged at least 65 years had the lowest rates of insomnia (14.3%), it affected 27.1% of working women and 19.7% working men.

The authors added that clinical sleep medicine experts independently examined a sample of participants to confirm the reliability of their estimates.

With such a massive economic burden on the country caused by insomnia, Kessler believes screening and treatment programs for workers should be set up. However, insomnia is not seen as an illness. So its effect on lost working days or man-hours is ignored by employers.

Kessler said:

“Now that we know how much insomnia costs the American workplace, the question for employers is whether the price of intervention is worthwhile. Can U.S. employers afford not to address insomnia in the workplace?”

Treating insomnia can vary, from approximately $200 annually for a generic sleeping medication, to $1,200 for behavioral therapy to treat the disorder, said James K. Walsh, study co-author, from the Sleep Medicine and Research Center at St. Luke’s Hospital in Chesterfield, Mo.

19% of individuals with less than a high school education were found to suffer from insomnia, compared to college graduates at 21.5%. People with some college education, at 26.4% insomnia prevalence, had the highest rates, followed by workers with a high school education (25.3%).

Insomnia can be caused by physical as well as psychological factors. Frequently, an underlying medical condition may be the cause of chronic insomnia, while a recent event or occurrence is more likely to be the cause of transient insomnia.

Insomnia can be caused by drugs, alcohol, medications, caffeine, nicotine, disruptions in circadian rhythm (jet lag, shift work), stress, anxiety, depression, brain lesions, chronic pain, and several medical conditions. Having a loud snorer as a partner is a common cause of insomnia.

Written by Christian Nordqvist