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Survey on Sleep Loss, Job Problems Is Eye-Opener

March 28, 1997|GREG E. NORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Large numbers of U.S. workers suffer from a lack of sleep, affecting on-the-job performance, according to survey results released by the National Sleep Foundation on Thursday.

The survey, conducted by pollster Louis Harris, found that almost half of the U.S. labor force--about 55 million workers--have experienced sleeplessness in the last three months. Of this group, two-thirds reported that the resulting fatigue made it more difficult to perform their daily job tasks.

Translated into dollar figures, the foundation calculated that sleeplessness costs the U.S. economy about $18 billion a year in lost productivity.

"U.S. workers cannot afford to lose any more sleep," said Michael Thorpy, director of the Sleep Disorders Center in New York City.

Increasingly, the U.S. medical community has been focusing on the health effects of contemporary lifestyle changes and pressures that have led to more people getting less sleep.

Former Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis W. Sullivan, appearing at the news conference where the survey results were presented, compared sleeplessness to other "widespread, serious public health problems, such as tobacco use and high blood pressure."

The survey also linked nighttime pain, including back and joint aches, to sleeplessness. About 42% of the employees who reported difficulty sleeping suffered such pain, the survey found. The study indicated that nighttime pain is second to stress as the most prevalent reason for sleeplessness.

According to the survey, sufferers from sleep loss have difficulty completing their daily work routines. On average, survey respondents claimed that their ability to concentrate when sleep-deprived is only 70% as focused as on days when they are well rested.

Productivity declines as well, with respondents indicating that they completed only 76% of a normal day's work when fatigued.

Sullivan, who was in the Cabinet during the Bush administration, called on employers to do a better job of recognizing the problem of sleep deprivation among workers, "educate them about its consequences and help them to take steps to treat it, or--even better--steps to prevent it."

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