Sleep Disorders Spell Safety, Productivity Concerns at Work

May 29, 2013
In honor of National Sleep Awareness Month this May, the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) is highlighting the workplace safety and productivity concerns posed by sleep disorders.

Workers who suffer from sleep disorders may experience fatigue that can harm their productivity or even result in serious safety concerns. As part of its Healthy Workforce Now initiative, the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) is working to raise awareness surrounding sleep disorders and their impacts on worker health and productivity.

Acute or chronic insomnia is one of the most prevalent sleep disorders. According to a recent study, insomnia affects approximately 23 percent of all U.S. workers, resulting in 367 million lost work days per year, and the cost to employers is nearly $63.2 billion per year in medical expenses and lost productivity, according to ACOEM.

In addition, more than 40 million Americans suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), of which 18 million have moderate to severe disease. Associated with profound health risk, including approximately 38,000 deaths annually that relate to cardiovascular problems, the excess medical costs for untreated OSA in the United States annually are estimated to be $80 billion with an additional 2.5 to 5 times that in disability and lost productivity.

Sleep disorders may have numerous causes, some of which include obesity, work stress, anxiety, and/or depression. In addition, certain medications and medical conditions can interfere with sleep, as can caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. Changes to a work schedule (shift work) also disrupt circadian rhythms resulting in sleep disorders. Sleep disorders also become more common with age – changes in health and increased medication use are some of the causes of age-related sleep disorders. And, as the workforce ages, this will become an even greater problem.

Treatment and Prevention

While sleep disorders can be treated with medication and behavioral therapy, prevention strategies should be considered as the first line of treatment. “People suffering from sleep disorders such as insomnia can try adoption of good lifestyle habits and proper sleep practices before turning to medications and other remedies,” said Barry Eisenberg, ACOEM executive director. “However, as the effects of sleep disorders – and potential underlying causes – vary from person to person, treatment depends on the condition, and those chronically affected should consult a physician.”

“Comprehensive worksite wellness initiatives should include a sleep disorder management program that consists of screening, diagnosis, treatment, and compliance components. As with most other chronic conditions, wellness programs can help prevent or manage sleep disorders by leveraging the power of prevention – the only sustainable solution to our society’s health crisis,” said Ron Loeppke, M.D., MPH, ACOEM president.

“This is especially true due to our aging workforce and for companies that employ shift workers or are involved in transportation – an emphasis on wellness and prevention activities that engage workers and their families to be more proactive about their health will allow us as a nation to have the healthiest workforce possible,” he added.

To address the impact of sleep disorders in the workplace, ACOEM is making available information and practical resources for employers to learn more about sleep disorders/fatigue prevention programs in the workplace. One such instrument, the Blueprint for Health, provides a free on-line calculator that estimates the overall total health-related costs to employers as well as the impact of specific chronic conditions such as insomnia, COPD, hypertension and heart disease on absenteeism.

About the Author

Laura Walter

Laura Walter was formerly senior editor of EHS Today. She is a subject matter expert in EHS compliance and government issues and has covered a variety of topics relating to occupational safety and health. Her writing has earned awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE), the Trade Association Business Publications International (TABPI) and APEX Awards for Publication Excellence. Her debut novel, Body of Stars (Dutton) was published in 2021.

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