Can’t Sleep? 6 Ways Your Insomnia Costs You

tired commuter
A man sleeps as he rides the bus | Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Bragging about how little sleep you got might be an American tradition (the President-elect claims to get by on just four hours per night), but it’s not a healthy one. Our collective insomnia costs the economy hundreds of billions of dollars every year and is sending many people to an early grave, according to a new report from Rand Europe.
American workers who don’t get enough sleep shrink the GDP of the United States by 2.28% annually, the report found.
“Our study shows that the effects from a lack of sleep are massive,” Marco Hafner, a research leader at RAND Europe, said in a statement. “Sleep deprivation not only influences an individual’s health and well being but has a significant impact on a nation’s economy, with lower productivity levels and a higher mortality risk among workers.”
Employers, governments, and workers themselves all pay a price for a lack of sleep, whether it’s in the form of exhaustion, lost productivity, or stunted economic growth. All can also take steps to mitigate the problem. Employers might discourage the “always-on” culture that leaves many workers chained to their devices, while governments could fund sleep-related research or introduce later school start times. But the biggest impact may come from individual people making sleep a priority.
“Improving individual sleep habits and duration has huge implications, with our research showing that simple changes can make a big difference. For example, if those who sleep under six hours a night increase their sleep to between six and seven hours a night, this could add $226.4 billion to the U.S. economy,” Hafner said.
Sleeping one hour more per night could significantly reduce the $411 billion lack of sleep costs the U.S. economy every year, the Rand study found. But it’s not just the broader economy that suffers when people don’t get enough rest. Insomnia and shortened sleep cycles also cost individuals, who may end up paying for a lack of sleep in the following ways.

1. You’re less likely to get a good job

job seeker with employment application
A job searcher holds an employment application | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Sleep deprivation among young people is a serious issue, with some people advocating for later start times or cutbacks in homework or activities to ensure kids and teens get enough sleep. People have good reason to want to make sure children are well rested. “Sub-optimal school performance in younger years due to sleep deprivation hinders an individual’s skill development,” the Rand report noted. In other words, kids who don’t get enough sleep do poorly in school, which means they’re less likely to learn the skills they need to succeed in the working world.
“There is some evidence that, for instance, a change in school starting times by one hour could improve strongly school performance and the educational achievements of adolescents, with associated gains in lifetime earnings,” according to the Rand report. Lack of sleep could also make it more difficult to learn new skills at work, the authors speculated, which might also affect a person’s job prospects.

2. You’re more likely to miss work

tired man in bed
Tired man in bed |

American employees miss an estimated 1.23 million days of work every year because of insufficient sleep. “A lack of proper sleep can weaken the immune system, increase the risk for infectious illness, and cause fatigue and depression, all of which can lead to absenteeism,” Hafner and Wendy M. Troxel noted.
A person who sleeps less than six hours per night loses an extra six days of work every year, either due to calling in sick or showing up but not being functional, Rand found. People who sleep six to seven hours lose an extra 3.7 days of work annually. When people burn through their PTO because they’re too tired to show up for work, that leaves less time off for more enjoyable activities than catching up on lost sleep. Workers who don’t get paid time off who have to call in sick because of a lack of sleep not only won’t get paid, but they may even lose their jobs.

3. You’re more likely to make on-the-job mistakes

angry co-workers
A woman being berated for making a mistake at work |

Sleep deprivation contributed to some of the biggest accidents in the past few decades, including the Chernobyl disaster, the Challenger explosion, and the Three Mile Island nuclear incident, Rand pointed out. You might not be responsible for a nuclear reactor, but doing sloppy work because you’re always tired can catch up with you and eventually hurt your career. Small screw-ups because you’re too sleepy to think straight are unlikely to endear you to your boss. Make a bigger error and you could be fired or injure yourself so badly you’re no longer able to work.

4. You’re more likely to cause an accident

Auto accident involving two cars
Auto accident involving two cars |

Accidents due to sleep deprivation don’t just happen on the job. Being tired can cause accidents at home or on the road, and these incidents often come with a big personal and financial cost. Driving while exhausted is basically the same as driving drunk, according to a recent report from AAA, and sleep deprived drivers cause 21% of all fatal car accidents. Aside from the very real possibility that you could injure or kill yourself or others by driving while tired, those accidents also come with a financial cost in terms of increased insurance premiums, deductibles, legal fees, and medical bills.

5. You’re more likely to be poor

road sign displaying 'Rish and Poor'
Rich and poor sign |

Stereotypes of lazy poor people and successful individuals who sacrifice sleep to get ahead aren’t rooted in reality. People who earn less than the federal poverty threshold are far more likely to sleep less than six hours per night than those earning confortable incomes, data from the CDC shows. Why poor people sleep less than their wealthier counterparts isn’t totally clear, but it seems unlikely that sleeping more would help them get ahead. Many are probably shunning sleep so they can work more hours to make ends meet, while financial stress and caregiving needs can also contribute to shorter sleep times, as Rand pointed out.

6. You’re more likely to die

Tombstones in a cemetery
Tombstones in a cemetery | Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Getting less than six hours of sleep per night increases a person’s mortality risk by 13% compared to someone who sleeps for seven to nine hours, according to Rand’s research. Insufficient shut-eye is linked to seven of the 15 leading causes of death in the U.S., including heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, strokes, septicaemia, and cancer. If that’s not a good reason to go to bed an hour earlier, we don’t know what is.
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