In recognition of May as National Sleep Awareness month, the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine's (ACOEM's) ongoing awareness campaign to address chronic disease in the workplace is focusing on the impact of sleep disorders on worker health and productivity. Sleep disorders that result in excessive workplace fatigue are not only debilitating but, as in the case of a truck driver falling asleep at the wheel, can also have fatal consequences.
Acute or chronic insomnia is one of the most prevalent sleep disorders. According to a recent study, insomnia affects approximately 23% 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.
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 U.S. 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) can 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 and even greater problem.