Inadequate sleep, a health problem affecting at least one in three adults worldwide, could cost countries billions, a study has found. Researchers from Victoria University and the University of Western Australia attempted to measure the economic consequences of limited sleep times in Australia. Limited sleep times is defined as “difficulties with sleep initiation, maintenance or quality associated with the presence of impaired daytime alertness” at least several days a week. The study, published in the journal Sleep, evaluated financial and non-financial cost data derived from national surveys and databases.
Costs considered included: financial costs associated with healthcare, informal care provided outside the healthcare sector, productivity losses, non-medical work and vehicle accident costs, deadweight loss through inefficiencies relating to lost tax revenue and welfare payments; and nonfinancial costs of a loss of well-being. The financial cost component was USD 17.88 billion, which comprised of: direct health costs of USD 160 million for sleep disorders and USD 1.08 billion for associated conditions. Productivity losses amounted to USD 12.19 billion, while non-medical accidents cost USD 2.48 billion.
The non-financial cost of reduced well-being was USD 27.33 billion. Thus, the estimated overall cost of inadequate sleep in Australia in 2016-17 was USD 45.21 billion. Community sleep surveys suggest that inadequate sleep is substantial and increasing. Surveys performed several years ago demonstrated that complaints of inadequate sleep were common, with between 20 and 30 percent of respondents complaining of inadequate sleep on a regular basis across several Western nations. Recent surveys suggest this proportion is increasing; between 33 and 45 percent of Australian adults now have this complaint.
The growth of the problem over time is shared by other nations with similar demographics. Some 35 percent of US adults are not getting the recommended 7 hours of sleep each night. About 30 percent of Canadians do not feel they are getting enough sleep. Some 37 percent of those in the UK, 28 percent of people in Singapore, and 26 percent of French people also report insufficient sleep.
Insufficient sleep is associated with lapses in attention and the inability to stay focused; reduced motivation; compromised problem solving; confusion, irritability and memory lapses; impaired communication; slowed or faulty information processing and judgment; diminished reaction times; and indifference and loss of empathy. Furthermore, short sleep increases the risk of heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and depression.
In setting national health priorities, governments have attempted to identify issues that involve high communal illness and injury burden with associated high costs for attention through public education, regulation, and other initiatives to effect improvements in health status.
Researchers said that governments have been successful in targeting diabetes, depression, and smoking, for example. The study suggests that sleep health may merit similar attention. The situation is likely to be similar in equivalent economies, they said.