New study counts the economic costs of lack of sleep.
The ‘normal’ sleep rate for the majority of adults is between seven and nine hours each night.
We know from existing research that the further we move away from that standard, the higher the risk of ill-health and an earlier death.
Those who sleep only six or seven hours a night increase the risk of an early demise by 7%.
Fewer than six hours sleep will increase this risk to 13%.
Sleep deprivation leads to mental as well as physical illness and has been linked to some forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s.
Despite these alarming results very little has been done within the cultures of modern businesses or lifestyles generally to address the growing problem of sleep disorders.
Many employers and industry associations make sympathetic noises about stress levels and the need to find a work/life balance, but ultimately they are still driven by models of unit productivity and maximising returns on cost (i.e. wages).
Suggest to any board that their workforce would benefit greatly from being paid the same wage for fewer hours and watch eyes pop and smoke come out of the directors’ ears.
Perhaps the new report from the non-profit Rand Europe research group should make them think again.
We already know from estimates made for a key report prepared in 2012 by the Sleep Alliance, a group of charities lobbying for legislation to help combat sleep disorders, that there is a cost to the NHS of over £430 million per year from undiagnosed sleep conditions turning into health crises.
We also know that 20% of all motorway accidents are caused by tiredness and that the death toll and injury rates resulting from these accidents are much higher than any others, taking over 300 lives a year and seriously or permanently injuring hundreds more.
But now the team at Rand has added an estimate of the commercial and industrial costs to those social ones and the results are quite staggering.
Rand estimates that losses to the UK economy due to lack of sleep among the workforce total $50 billion (£39 billion) a year.
Compare this with the estimated cost impact of smoking (£13.9 billion), obesity (£15.8 billion) and alcoholism (£21 billion) and you can begin to understand why health professionals involved in the field are despairing about the lack of attention in gets.
We’re not alone in this situation; overall, the US suffers the biggest financial losses ($411 billion), followed by Japan ($138 billion), Germany ($60 billion), the UK ($50 billion) and Canada ($21.4 billion).
It seems very much to be the side effect of an advanced economy and, while it may be too glib to blame the blinkered pursuit of optimised marginal profit margins from non-automated production units (making fewer staff work harder and longer for less), it may be an indicator that we need more breadth of vision to develop new ways of addressing both the economic and social costs of an antiquated business model.
After all, it does seem to help the bottom line when all is said and done.
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