Giving Compass' Take:
- Doug Irving explains that researchers estimate that insomnia costs the U.S. economy more than $200 billion annually.
- What role can you play in addressing the medical and cultural components of insomnia?
- Learn how to find and fund scientific research.
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Researchers at RAND and RAND Europe estimate that chronic insomnia pulls down the U.S. economy by more than $200 billion every year. Other major economies also forgo tens of billions of dollars in lost productivity. The condition is so debilitating, researchers found, that sufferers would pay 14 percent of their income to get better sleep.
“We encourage this as a society,” said Levine, who documented her life with insomnia in a 2017 article for Prevention magazine. “Someone is always emailing, and then you respond and you get sucked down the rabbit hole, and then it's 11 o'clock at night. We normalize it. There's this idea that it's good to be sleep-deprived, that you're up and you're busy.”
Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder in the world. It blurs thinking, dulls concentration, and drives up the risk of workplace accidents. Some evidence suggests its prevalence has been on the rise since COVID scrambled routines and gave people something new to worry about at 2 a.m. One 2021 Canadian study found a fourfold increase in new case rates of insomnia during the early months of the pandemic.
For years now, researchers at RAND and RAND Europe have documented the staggering toll that insufficient sleep takes on personal and economic well-being. One report, for example, estimated that Americans miss the equivalent of 1.2 million days of work because they don't get enough sleep. Another showed how later school start times could boost student performance—and with it, state economies. Researchers have also pegged the cost of frequent nighttime visits to the bathroom at around $44 billion a year in lost productivity in the United States alone.
Workers who experience any symptoms of insomnia miss 14 days of work every year and spend another 30 days at work but not being fully productive.
But insomnia is different. It's a disorder of sleep quality, not just sleep quantity. The researchers defined it as trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, or not getting enough restful sleep. People who have those symptoms three or more times a week—enough that they interfere with daily activities—have what qualifies as clinical insomnia. If those symptoms last for at least three months, it's chronic insomnia.
Workers who experience any symptoms of insomnia miss 14 days of work every year and spend another 30 days at work but not being fully productive, the researchers estimated. Chronic sufferers are absent for up to 18 days and present but not productive for up to 54 days.
Using those numbers, the researchers calculated that the United States loses more than 1 percent of its total economic output to chronic insomnia every year. That adds up to around $207.5 billion. The United Kingdom loses 1.3 percent of its output every year, or $41.4 billion. France forgoes around $36.3 billion, and Australia and Canada both lose more than $19 billion.
Read the full article about insomnia by Doug Irving at RAND Corporation.