About 1 in 4 U.S. Workers Has Insomnia

Workplace Sleepiness Costs $63 Billion a Year in Lost Productivity

From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 1, 2011 -- Workers with insomnia who are too sleepy to fully function on the job cost the U.S. a whopping $63 billion in lost productivity each year, according to a nationwide survey.

Nationally, insomnia is responsible for 252 million lost days of productivity each year, even though most sleep-deprived people show up for work.

That averages out to about eight lost days of productivity annually for every sleep-deprived worker.

Chronic insomnia is most often defined as difficulty falling or staying asleep or having non-restorative sleep on most nights for at least a month.

"Americans are not missing work because of insomnia," says Harvard Medical School professor of health care policy Ronald C. Kessler, PhD, who led the study. "They are still going to their jobs but accomplishing less because they are tired."

Women Sleepier Than Men

The survey included just over 7,400 nationally representative workers who were asked about their sleep habits and work performance as part of a larger insomnia study.

Based on the survey answers, Kessler and colleagues concluded that:

  • 23% of U.S. workers are sleep deprived due to insomnia.
  • The prevalence of insomnia was lowest for older workers. Just 14% of people 65 and older reported the problem.
  • 27% of working women in the U.S. have insomnia, compared to 20% of working men.
  • The cost to employers in terms of lost productivity is roughly $2,300 each year for every employee with chronic insomnia.

"When we actually did the calculations we were amazed at the extent of the problem," Kessler tells WebMD. "It seems unbelievable that more than 250 million days a year of lost productivity can be attributed to insomnia. Yet this hasn't really been on anyone's radar."

Work-Based Insomnia Screening

Kessler says now that the productivity cost of insomnia is known, the focus should be on finding ways to address the problem.

About one in five people with insomnia receive drug or behavioral treatments, he says.

The study was paid for by the drug companies Merck and Sanofi-Aventis, which markets the sleep drug Ambien. It appears in the September issue of the journal Sleep.