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The National Sleep Epidemic Is Getting More Serious – and More Dangerous, New Research Finds

Worrisome statistics from a recent RAND Corporation report show how our sleep-deprivation is causing us to suffer on a national scale.

Image by  malerapaso/ Getty Images

1.23 million days of work in the US are lost each year due to chronic sleeplessness, the New York Times recently reported – a number that continues to climb with our sleep epidemic. While we often talk about the science behind getting enough sleep, what happens when you don’t is increasingly proving to take a toll on our mental health, our bodies, and now – our economy.

The Times noted that inadequate sleep causes over $400 billion in losses country-wide each year, compared to runner-up Japan, which sees only $138 billion in losses for the same reason. The statistics come from new research by the RAND Corporation, and the daunting numbers prove the severity of the epidemic, which is resulting in less productivity, less safety, and dramatically lower economic gains in the long run.

The most shocking part is perhaps the normalcy of it all, as the RAND report revealed that only 20 to 30 percent of workers complain about not sleeping. “Inadequate sleep is too easily accepted into the community as part of life,” Dr. David Hillman, a clinical professor at the University of Western Australia tells the Times. “Sleep is [seen as] an indulgence.”

The CDC has found that one in three adults suffer from lack of sleep on a daily basis, and on a regular night, most Americans are sleeping two hours less than we were a century ago. We’ve also seen that sleep-deprived consumers are paying over $66 billion on devices, medication, and sleep studies – a figure that could rise to $85 billion by 2021. National Geographic’s August issue, which focuses on the science of sleep, points out that we’re spending more than $411 billion to make up for the accidents and loss of productivity caused by lack of sleep.

“It’s a huge problem that translates into enormous costs,” Hillman tells the Times, “And it’s a call to not only mitigate the suffering, but also to mitigate the costs.” Hillman says the competitive nature of today’s workforce convinces people to skimp on sleep, but it’s been scientifically proven that well-rested employees are more productive at work and happier in general. The fix, according to Hillman, comes down to education. He suggests that starting from a young age, we need to be more educated about the importance of sleep, as poor sleeping habits often start early in life.

Researchers from RAND suggest starting with small steps, such as setting a consistent bedtime, limiting electronics before bed, and getting regular exercise. By changing our mindset, shifting our expectations, and teaching the next generation that sleep is a must instead of a luxury, we can eventually get to a point where healthier habits become the norm, and our cognitive abilities do not suffer because of our sleeplessness. “The consequences of sleep-deprivation have far-reaching consequences,” the researchers conclude. “Solving the problem of insufficient sleep represents a potential ‘win-win’ situation for individuals, employers and the wider society.”

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