News & Views

Insomnia impairs work performance and safety

By Zach Pearl, PhD Staff

Insomnia is the most commonly reported sleep complaint1. Its burden on society is substantial, with an estimated one-third of all US adults experiencing weekly sleep difficulties and an estimated 50–70 million people complaining on bad sleep, resulting in deterioration of daytime functioning2 3. Insomnia affects several aspects of one’s health and is associated with poorer physical and mental quality of life4. Many studies link insomnia to impaired functioning; from increased sleepiness and fatigue5 to impaired psychomotor performance6 and memory consolidation, thus it is not surprising that insomnia has been associated with significant workplace deficits7 8.

Sleep Deprivation and Job Performance

Studies among specific populations have shown an association between insomnia and decreased work productivity. Without adequate sleep, employees have more difficulty concentrating, learning, and communicating. Decrease in attention, impairment in decision-making, memory, functioning, and motivation are noticeable, while increased absenteeism results in poor job performance9 10 11. Sleep-deprived employees can be moody, stressed and less tolerant to co-workers causing relationship problems at work which in turn contribute to inefficiency and job dissatisfaction to the extent of impacting the entire organization.

Sleep Deprivation and Individual Safety

Another important consequence of sleepiness or tiredness of individuals with insomnia is decreased work safety. Studies show that insomnia can slow reaction times, impair attention, reduce memory recall, and decrease quality of performance11. It was shown that an insomniac worker has more reports of unintentional sleep at work, injury at home, nodding off while driving, and having a near miss or automobile accident due to sleepiness or tiredness11.

In addition, in health care related environments, a strong positive relationship between the level of physician fatigue and the rate of treatment-error has been observed consistently12. A study found that hospitals could reduce the number of medical errors by as much as 36% by limiting an individual doctor’s work shifts and reducing the total working hours per week12.

There is also a strong link between inadequate sleep and driving accidents13. A national sleep foundation survey found that twice as many chronic insomniacs reported having a car accident due to sleepiness compared to those with occasional or no insomnia14. Work-related accidents have been estimated to occur 1.5 times more often in employees with insomnia compared to overall employee population15.

Economic Impact of Insomnia

The economic burden of insomnia is very high. In the United States alone it amounts to billions of dollars each year, with a total cost estimated as $30-100 billion15 16 which is the largest proportion of all expenses (~75%) attributable to insomnia-related work absences and reduced productivity18 19. The costs are divided between direct costs (mainly medical costs including expenses of doctor visits, hospital services, and medications16) and indirect costs (costs associated with illness-related morbidity and mortality, absenteeism, disability, reduction or loss of productivity, industrial and motor vehicle accidents, and increased alcohol consumption)17. Insomnia places a greater burden on individuals of lower socioeconomic status18, those who are less educated, and those who are more likely to be unemployed19. Falls caused by insomnia also contribute to its economic burden. A greater risk for falls is associated with both traditional hypnotic use and insomnia20. Like other sleep disorders, insomnia is more prevalent in the elderly. Therefore, as the world population continues to age, the costs associated with falls caused by insomnia are expected to continue to rise.

Insomnia is a serious illness that can have serious outcomes, Therefore it should not be taken lightly. Please consult with your doctor on treatment options in case you suffer from insomnia.

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