In this day and age, sleep feels like a luxury that few of us can afford. We stay up late to finish work, to catch up with friends, to stare at our smartphones, or simply because we’re too stressed out to drift off. But according to a new study, America’s lack of sleep may be costing us big—to the tune of $411 billion a year.
A team of economists, psychologists, and policy wonks from the Rand Corporation, a non-profit think tank, came up with this estimate after reviewing previous studies and plugging numbers into an economic model.
More than a third of American adults aren’t getting enough sleep. That’s not good. Besides making you more prone to accidents, insufficient sleep is linked with heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other health problems.
In analyzing previous studies, the Rand researchers estimated that a person who regularly sleeps less than six hours per night has a 13 percent higher chance of dying at any given time, compared to someone who sleeps seven to nine hours a night. Dying is a bit of a setback for you personally, of course, but it’s also bad for the economy, which loses a worker when you go.
And even if when your sleepiness doesn’t kill you, it kills your productivity. Based on the Britain’s Healthiest Workplace survey of 66,000 workers, the Rand researchers calculated that someone who gets less than six hours of sleep per night loses 2.4 percent productivity compared to someone who got a full night’s rest. That adds up to losing about 6 extra days of work per year, either through low productivity or the use of sick days.
People who sleep six to seven hours a night do slightly better, but they still feel the effects of sleep loss. They lose 1.5 percent of their productive work time (to the tune of around 3.7 days per year) compared to seven- to nine-hour sleepers.
Those extra days off may not seem like much, but when multiplied across the entire sleep-deprived American workforce it adds up to the loss of 1.23 million working days. Ouch.
And what about the next generation of the workforce? Studies have shown that when schools delay their starting times by an hour, kids do better in class. The authors suggest that by forcing kids to wake up too early, we may be limiting their academic achievement and skill development, which in turn hurts the economy.
The study isn’t perfect. Relying on survey data has its problems. People may misremember or misreport their behaviors, and the results can’t directly link sleep deficiency with risk of death or lower productivity. But by putting a price tag on sleep loss, the study might encourage people and their employers to actually do something about it.
“[S]olving the problem of insufficient sleep represents a potential ‘win-win’ situation for individuals, employers and the wider society,” the authors write.
Companies can help their workers get more sleep by setting up offices with natural light and napping areas, and by discouraging employees from working late.
For individuals who want to develop better sleep habits, the researchers recommend setting a consistent wake-up time, getting exercise, reducing consumption of caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol at night, and limiting screen time before bed.