If you suffer from insomnia, you know how lousy it makes you feel.
But a new study has found that insomnia also leads to low productivity at work. When you show up at work, but can’t perform effectively, it’s called presenteeism. According to the study, published Thursday in the journal Sleep, insomnia-related presenteeism causes the average U.S. employee to lose the equivalent of 11.3 days of work every year. That adds up to an average annual loss of $2,280 per person or about $63.2 billion lost productivity across the population.
“Our results in the current study suggest that insomnia is the kind of problem that does not keep people from coming to work but does interfere with their on-the-job performance,” said lead author Ronald C. Kessler, Ph.D., professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School.
Poor sleep can make it difficult to multi-task, make you slower to get your work done, and some people report it affects creative thinking and memory.
The study found an estimated 23.2 percent of American workers suffer from insomnia. Workers 65 and older had lower rates of insomnia (14.3 percent) and women had higher rates (27.1 percent) compared to men (19.7 percent).
“We know that only 10 to 20 percent of insomniacs are being treated,” said the study co-author, James K. Walsh, Ph.D., executive director at the Sleep Medicine and Research Center of St. Luke's Hospital in Chesterfield, Mo. “People don’t appreciate the potential impact on their ability to function during the day and a lot of insomniacs aren’t treated because they fear sleeping pills,” he said.
The authors hope their study is a call to action for employers to take sleep issues seriously and called for screening and treatment programs for employees. In the meantime, here are some evidence-supported ways to reduce insomnia:
Take sleeping pills. There are safe pills people can take that don’t cause dependence or addiction. But it’s important to combine medications with the behavioral tactics below.
Sleep no more 7 ½ hours. Most people need no more than 8 hours, but if you cut back to 7 1/2, you’ll have sounder sleep with fewer awakenings.
Get up the same time every morning. Your body rhythms are tied to the time you awaken, so it’s important to keep it constant, said Dr. Michael Thorpy, director of the sleep wake disorders center at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, N.Y. That means not oversleeping on weekends.
Avoid stimulating activities before bed. This includes working on your finances, doing work, watching YouTube videos or exercising. Exercise is great, but you shouldn’t work up a sweat much past the early evening hours.
Don’t imbibe. Drinking alcohol or caffeinated beverages six hours before bedtime can disrupt your sleep. Also avoid large meals close to bedtime.
Get into bed only when you’re sleepy. Spending time awake in bed can make you anxious and it can lead you to associate your bed with anxiety.
See a therapist. If these tactics don’t help, try cognitive behavioral therapy, which uses a more aggressive approach to taming your sleep problems. Most people can be helped in only three or four sessions.