Sleep disorders cost the economy billions

New figures reveal that sleep disorders are costing the Australian economy more than $5.1 billion each year. The staggering amount covers health costs and loss of productivity for the more than 1.5 million workers suffering from sleep disorders including sleep apnea and insomnia.

The report comes from the Deloitte Access Economics and is commissioned by the Sleep Health Foundation. It shows that the direct cost to the nation's health system was more than $800 million - and $270 million more was spent each year caring for sleep disorders. Indirect costs make up $4.3 billion a year - including $3.1 billion in lost productivity and $650 million for vehicle and workplace accidents.

On top of that, Deloitte Access Economics estimates people with sleep disorders suffer a reduction in life quality equivalent to more than $31 billion a year. The figures account for lost productivity, absenteeism and poor work performance attributed to a lack of sleep.

The Sleep Health Foundation says it is time preventative health campaigns focused on the need for a good night's sleep, as well as a good diet and exercise. More than 1.5 million adult Australians, or 9 per cent of the population, suffer from sleep disorders, including sleep apnea, insomnia and restless leg syndrome.

“What these conditions have in common is that they disrupt sleep and cause daytime symptoms,” said Professor David Hillman, the director of the West Australian Sleep Disorders Research Institute. “The daytime symptoms are those ones of sleep disruption, tiredness, lethargy, and really sub-optimal brain function.” Professor Hillman is also chairman of the Sleep Health Foundation, which asked Deloitte Access Economics to quantify the economic impact of sleep disorders.

“About 5 per cent of heart disease and high blood pressure is attributable to sleep disorders and depression is another consequence, around about 10 per cent of depression is attributable to sleep disorders,” Professor Hillman said. “And then of course workplace accidents and productivity losses and for that matter losses of life quality. So it looked at all those consequences, worked out the proportion which was attributable to sleep disorders and then looked at the dollar costs that flowed from that.”

The Sleep Health Foundation is keen to press the message that a small increase in funding for the treatment of sleep disorders could bring about a big net benefit for the economy. Professor Hillman says while current preventative health messages focus mostly on diet and exercise, he would like to see future campaigns include the need for a good night's sleep as well. “It's quite a common perception in the community that sleep's an inconvenience that gets in the way of social life, family life, work and I have dealt with people who actually believe they can train themselves to sleep less,” he said. “That's simply not possible; this is a physiological need that has to be met and if you don't meet it you can very readily measure the effects on brain function.”

Professor Hillman said, “At the moment there is a concentration on healthy diet, regular exercise, alcohol moderation and smoking…But a good night's sleep isn't there (on the agenda) and it's got to be.”

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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