Work Absences Rise Prior to Sleep Apnea Diagnosis

Sleep apnea, a condition in which people stop breathing during periods of deep sleep, often associated with obesity, may considerably threaten the ability to work even years before diagnosis, study findings suggest.

Men and women with sleep apnea lost 1.6 to 1.8 times more workdays, respectively, during the five years prior to diagnosis than their counterparts without sleep apnea, according to an assessment of work absences among public sector employees in Finland.

Among women, "lost workdays were especially pronounced," Dr. Noora Sjosten told Reuters Health. In the five years before diagnosis, the researchers estimate women with sleep apnea lost 80.5 workdays than women without the condition. Men with sleep apnea likewise lost 30 extra workdays.

Prior studies linked sleep apnea with increased use of healthcare services, but none had quantified the number of lost workdays associated with sleep apnea, Sjosten, of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Turku, and colleagues report in the journal Chest.

The current study compared sickness and disability related work absences among 957 workers diagnosed with sleep apnea between 1995 and 2005, and 4785 workers without. About a quarter of the study participants were younger than 45 years, just under half were 45 to 54 years old, and the rest were aged 55 to 63 years. Men comprised 58 percent of the study group.

The excess workday loss was what resulted after researchers ruled out the effects of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, asthma or other chronic obstructive lung problems, and depression.

These findings highlight sleep apnea as a serious disease among Finnish workers and demonstrate the importance of early identification and treatment of employees with sleep apnea, Sjosten and colleagues conclude.

However, Sjosten's team calls for further investigations of links between sleep apnea and workplace absences in other populations.