New York is known as the city that never sleeps, but that label could just as easily be applied West Allis, Fond du Lac, Green Bay, or any other city across the country. Put simply, Americans aren’t sleeping enough and it’s taking a toll on our businesses and our health.
According to Gallup, the average American sleeps about 6.8 hours each night – an hour less than our parents and grandparents did in 1942. Some may argue that’s because we’re working harder and being more productive than ever before, but the data doesn’t back that up.
In 2011, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine reported that insomnia costs the U.S. economy more than $63 billion per year in lost productivity. (This price tag has likely only gone up in recent years, as glowing tablets and smartphones replace the traditional bedtime story).
It should come as no surprise, then, that more and more Americans are being diagnosed with sleep disorders – and those diagnoses come with high costs.
In fact, sleep test costs can range from $200 for in-home testing, to $1,000 in an independent freestanding center, to more than $1,700 in a hospital outpatient department. Given that most people pay 20 to 25 percent directly out of their own pocket for these tests, that’s real money that could have been used to buy groceries, or make a monthly car payment or pay college tuition. Still, all too often, this money gets spent because most people aren’t aware of the cost differences between common tests.
Let’s take a closer look at one particularly common and costly condition: sleep apnea.
More than 12 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea and many are undiagnosed, according to the National Institutes of Health. It’s a condition caused by the obstruction of the upper airway that results in repetitive pauses in breathing during sleep that can lead to daytime sleepiness or fatigue. Sleep apnea also increases health risks, such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, depression, weight gain and obesity.
While a home-based test ordered by a physician is likely appropriate for 70 to 80 percent of patients with suspected sleep apnea, a national analysis by Anthem’s AIM Specialty Health division found only 25 to 30 percent of all sleep apnea testing takes place at home.
To help remedy this, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield implemented a phone-based intervention. Now, whenever an Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield member receives an order to get a test at a center that is at least $300 higher than other similar accredited facilities in a 30-mile radius, the member receives a call with information about lower cost alternatives nearby. The representative making that call can even help reschedule the test to a more cost-effective facility, if the member so chooses.
The results of this program have been dramatic. Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield members in Wisconsin are saving an average of $1,285 on each hospital or clinic-based sleep test, and now 65 percent are getting their sleep test at home.
If you are suffering from sleep-related health issues, be sure to ask your doctor whether you qualify for in-home sleep testing. If not, ask questions about the costs of similar quality sleep testing facilities because they can range widely in price and directly affect your out-of-pocket costs.
In addition to financial costs, poor sleep has a tremendous impact productivity of your workforce. Sleep helps us think clearly, so we can assess risks and make good decisions. It also affects learning, memory and reaction time. Not getting enough sleep leads to many unintended consequences including*:
- Illness. Lack of sleep weakens the immune system.
- Weight gain. Sleep deprivation disrupts your metabolism. The less people sleep, the more likely they are to be overweight or obese, and to crave foods that are high in calories and carbohydrates.
- Relationship problems. Irritability and mood swings from not getting enough sleep make it hard for other people to be around you.
- Poor performance. Poor judgment and problems concentrating combined with an irritable mood is a recipe for failure at your job or at school.
- Shorter lifespan. People who don’t get enough sleep are at greater risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, depression and accidental death.
Admittedly, there is only so much an employer can do to convince its employees to get enough sleep. That said, don’t underestimate the role your workplace culture plays in encouraging people to get a good night’s rest. Quick returns can be produced simply by making sure sleep education is a part of your ongoing wellness programming and reminding staff that it’s expected they’ll unplug from work emails and other distractions at the end of the day in order to get a good night’s sleep.
3 Tips for getting good sleep from WebMD:
- Keep a routine. Get up at the same time each morning, have meals at regular times, and go through the same bedtime ritual (bath, snack, book, etc.) each night. This keeps your body ready for sleep when it is bedtime.
- Make your bedroom a good place for sleep. Keep it quiet, cool and dark. Don’t eat, watch TV, write, talk on the phone or worry in bed. Once you get in bed, your mind should be off for the night.
- Be aware of what you put into your body and how it affects your sleep. Do not have any caffeine after lunch. Avoid alcohol (and heavy exercise) within six hours of your bedtime. Don’t smoke before bedtime, and keep any bedtime snacks light. Try to avoid using sleeping pills.