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Insomnia can be a costly disorder, increasing errors on the job

October 01, 2012|By Jon Bardin
  • According to a new study, insomnia reduces workplace productivity in part by increasing errors and accidents, which can be costly.
According to a new study, insomnia reduces workplace productivity in part… (Fabrice Coffrini / AFP /…)

As if employers don't have enough causes of lost productivity to worry about, here comes a new one: insomnia. A new study projects that the disorder leads to about 274,000 mistakes that cause over $30 billion in losses due to accidents and workplace errors.

Though it may seem obvious that a lack of sleep would lead to more mistakes on the job, only two previous studies — both relatively small and carried out in France — had tried to determine how many workers were affected. The new study, published Monday in the Archives of General Psychiatry, is by far the largest to look at the effect of insomnia on the workplace.

For the study, researchers used data from the America Insomnia Survey, or AIS, a nationwide phone survey of people with health insurance that was administered to 10,094 Americans. They also asked participants whether they had "a workplace accident that either caused damage or work disruption with a value of $500 or more," and also "Not counting accidents, did you ever in the past 12 months make a big mistake at work that cost your company $500 or more?"

They found that a full 20% of participants reported having symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of insomnia, and that 4.3% of respondents had committed a serious error or had an accident over the past year. Most importantly, having insomnia made respondents almost twice as likely to commit an error or have an accident, and the researchers estimate that somewhere between 10% and 15% of workplace errors and accidents can be attributed to insomnia.

And these mistakes were costly: The average cost of an accident or an error was over $20,000. When the researchers extrapolated the cost of mistakes that would not have occurred were it not for a worker's insomnia to the entire nation, they came up with an enormous figure: $31 billion.

The authors believe employers may want to increase screening and treatment for insomnia, which can be hard to detect because its most obvious symptom occurs off the clock. And though the present study focuses solely on mistakes on the job, research suggests that screening and treating insomnia proactively in the workplace could also help reduce sick days and other employee absences, they write.

As a result, such an effort is likely to help improve both the health of the workforce and a company's bottom line.

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