Sleep Loss Costs US Workers … and Industry’s Bottom Line

The Sleep and Shift Work: Impact on Health, Safety and Productivity Symposium (learn more on Twitter at hashtag #CROETSleep), reported that insomnia costs US industry an estimated $63 billion per year based on a loss of 8 days of productivity per year determined in a survey of nearly 8000 people (published in Sleep, 2011, by Kessler).  Turning to an example of impact on working people, shift workers (who have disturbed sleep) have a 5-fold increased chance of developing diabetes.  These findings were described by CROET Director Dr. Steve Shea (from Oregon Health & Science University), shown in the picture speaking to the 80+ registrants from industry, labor, government and academia.

The second speaker, Dr. Orfeu Buxton of Harvard Medical School, picked up on this theme, pointing out that sleep insufficiency is widespread in the US and that the areas of the country with the highest degree of sleep insufficiency have the highest levels of obesity and diabetes.  In a laboratory study with people under controlled conditions, reduced sleep led to increased glucose levels which is associated with increasing obesity.

Dr. Bryan Vila  of Washington State University addressed the immediate problems of poor sleep and how to combat poor sleep and the fatigue that comes from it.  Naps were among the ways to combat poor sleep and keeping a dark quiet place to sleep is another.

Dr. Kim Hutchinson (Oregon Health & Science University) discussed sleep disorders that affect 40 million Americans.  Insomnia is the most common disorder; 15% of adults report having chronic insomnia (more than a month of is continuous insomnia is ‘chronic’) and 58% of adults report insomnia events at least once per week.  Insomnia can be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy or with medications.  She also discussed sleep apnea or waking up in the middle of sleep.  The largest risk factors for sleep apnea are obesity and large neck size and the problem is worse if you sleep on your back.  CPAP masks that you wear when asleep can treat sleep apnea.  Tennis ball treatment is also helpful – placing a tennis ball in a pocket in your sleeping clothes so that when you roll on your back it prods you to move back on your side.

For  sleep hygiene (good sleeping habits), Dr. Hutchinson’s recommendations included:
• Sleep only when you are sleepy
• If you don’t fall asleep in 20 minutes, get up and do something boring
• Don’t take naps
• If you do take naps, take them before 3 PM and nap less than an hour when you do nap
• Keep a regular sleep routine (same time)
• Develop sleep rituals (listen to relaxing music, read something soothing, turn TV off)
• Get regular exercise, but don’t exercise just before your time to fall asleep
• Don’t drink caffeine, nicotine and alcohol 4-6 hours before bed
• If light bothers you, get a blackout shade; if noise bothers you get a white noise machine

Dr. Ryan Olson of CROET at OHSU began (pictured below, right) with an audience poll.
• One question was: During the past 4 weeks, how often did you wake up in the middle of the night?  Most of the audience answered “3-4 times a week.”

Dr. Olson described the Work Family Network training/work organization change study in information technology professionals (only a part of the study) increased sleep at night (measured by an actigraph wrist monitor).

Questions were answered by panelists listed and pictured below; the panel was chaired by Dr. Steve Shea (OHSU; standing)
• Ryan Olson – OHSU
• Bryan Vila – Washington State University
• Deb Fell-Carlson – SAIF Corporation
• Alfred Lewy – Sleep and Moods Disorders Laboratory, OHSU

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About the Author

W. Kent Anger, PhD, is a Senior Scientist and Associate Director for Applied Research at OHSU's Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology.

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