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.
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, MD, 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," said Dr. Loeppke.