Are You Falling Asleep On The Job? It’s Costing The Economy Billions

8 August 2017
A new report commissioned by the Government shows that inadequate sleep is costing the economy more than $66 billion per year.

Sleeping at work

The report, released by Deloitte Access Economics in collaboration with the Sleep Foundation, found that just under two in five (39.8%) of Australian adults are not getting the adequate sleep they need to live healthy, happy lives.

In turn, more than half of these individuals were experiencing ongoing pathologically high levels of daytime sleepiness, which cost the country $66.3 billion in health bills, lost productivity, and well-being over the 2016/17 financial year.

Professor Dorothy Bruck, Chair of the Sleep Health Foundation, said that the lack of sleep had harmful effects on everyday function, and intensified health conditions such as heart disease, strokes, diabetes and depression.

“This clearly shows that we have an epidemic of disabling sleep loss affecting a large chunk of our population,” the sleep psychologist said,

“Put simply, we have 7.4 million Australians who are not getting the sleep they need to fully function throughout the day.”

The comprehensive report also revealed that inadequate sleep was linked to 3,017 deaths in the 2016/17 financial year, with more than 7.5% of those occurring from either an industrial accident due to lack of sleep or because a person fell asleep behind the wheel.

Key findings

Of the 7.4 million people who frequently suffered from inadequate sleep:

  • 1 million people suffered from sleep disorders like insomnia and obstructive sleep apnoea
  • 5 million people had health problems that affected their sleep
  • 8 million people routinely failed to get enough sleep and had side effects of sleep deprivation

“The results are especially concerning when considered alongside new research suggesting sleep is vital in allowing each cell, in every organ of the body, to continue to function,” said Professor Bruck.

“No wonder sleep deprivation is such a highly effective form of torture.”

The report also put the financial cost of sleeplessness at $26.2 billion per year, which was made of:

  • Healthcare costs of $1.8 billion, or $246 per person with inadequate sleep
  • Productivity losses of $17.9 billion, or $2,418 per person with inadequate sleep
  • Informal care costs of $0.6 billion, or $82 per person with inadequate sleep
  • Other financial costs, including deadweight losses, of $5.9 billion, or $802 per person with inadequate sleep

Adding the loss of well-being costs that came to $40.1 billion, the annual sleep bill climbs to $66.3 billion.

“The numbers are big, the personal and national costs are big and their consequences should not be ignored,” Professor Bruck said.

“The cost of sleep deprivation is utterly alarming and confirms we need to take urgent action to put sleep on the national agenda.”

What can we do to fix this?

The report recommends increased policy effort be devoted to:

  • Research on the causes of primary sleep disorders
  • Encouraging prevention and early detection
  • Enhancing development and implementation of cost-effective treatment for sleep problems
  • Reducing smoking, obesity and other lifestyle causes of daytime sleepiness
  • Raising awareness of the importance of sleep hygiene
  • Occupational health and safety regulations that reduce circadian rhythm disruption from shift work and fatigue from excessive work hours – possibly including restrictions on driving without adequate sleep beforehand
  • Building design standards that increase natural light
  • Education about the benefits of switching away from blue light on screens at night

“Ultimately, the responsibility for reducing fatigue must be shared amongst government, industry, the workforce, the public and the scientific community,” Professor Bruck said.

“Now is the time to step up and address it.”

Read the report here.

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