Sleep deprivation cost is more than just health

Lewis Germain IDec 2 2016

Most people know the short-term effects of a bad night’s sleep. Tiredness, irritability, lack of productivity: it’s hardly conducive to an efficient day of work or play. However, if a lack of sleep becomes a regular occurrence, short term detriment can develop into long term issues. This includes personal ill-health as well as deficits on a national scale, specifically financial losses for the UK economy. The ‘cost’ of sleep deprivation is greater than we thought.

A recent survey of just over 62,000 employees in Britain quantified the effects of sleep deprivation in terms of both ‘working hours’ and ‘money’ lost. The survey data was extrapolated to the entire UK working population, and found that 31,000 extra working days could be saved per year if those sleeping, on average, less than six hours per night managed to sleep between six and seven hours. The results showed that those 31,000 working days are worth $36.7 billion to the UK economy, equating to £29.1 billion in today’s climate.

However, this study included just 62,000 employees, less than a quarter of a percent of the 31 million people in full- or part-time work in the UK. This means that although working hours are, and money is, lost, it is difficult to gauge how representative this sample is of the nation as a whole.  Regardless, it may be fair to conclude that the lessons learned are of value.

Enough about the economy, how does sleep duration affect me personally?

The greatest personal benefit of regularly achieving the optimal amount of sleep is improved general health. The Royal College of Psychiatrists recommends eight hours per night on average, which may seem a lot to some, but its benefits are believed to include better immunity, mental health, fertility and sex drive.
On the flip-side, the potential consequences of sleep deprivation can be serious, one of the most significant of which being obesity.

Research has found that habitual, insufficient sleep causes higher calorie and fat intake, irregular eating patterns and the consumption of more ‘energy-dense’ meals (more calories packed into smaller amounts of food). These factors predispose weight gain, and when unhealthy levels of body habitus are reached, this opens the door to well-publicised complications such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.

What can I do to improve the quality of my sleep?

Consistent, good quality sleep can be achieved through simple measures that are often recommended by the doctor. This is known as ‘sleep hygiene’, and involves the following principles:

1) Ensuring a low light and familiar, acceptable noise level when trying to sleep.
2) Having realistic expectations of sleep length.
3) Exercising regularly during the daytime.
4) Sexual intercourse may help settling to sleep.
5) Moderate intake of warm food before bed (avoid caffeine or large meals).
6) Trying to ensure regular bedtimes and rising times.

Of course, some causes of sleep deprivation cannot be remedied with these measures. If this is the case, please use the links below for more information, and ensure that you visit your GP if extra help or guidance is needed.

Any opinions above are the author's alone and may not represent those of the NHS or Mind and Medicine. Any comment is based on the best available evidence at the time of writing.  All data is based on externally validated studies unless expressed otherwise. Novel data is representative of sample surveyed. Online recommendation is no substitute for seeing your own doctor and should not be taken as medical advice.
Hafner M, Stepanek M, Taylor J, Troxel WM, van Stolk C (2016). Why sleep matters – the economic costs of insufficient sleep: A cross-country comparative analysis. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.
Dashti HS, Sheer FAJL, Jacques PF et al (2015). Short Sleep Duration and Dietary Intake: Epidemiologic Evidence, Mechanisms and Health implications. Advances in Nutrition; 6(6): 648-659.
Itani O, Jike M, Watanabe N, Kaeita Y (2016). Short sleep duration and health outcomes: a systematic review, meta-analysis, and meta-regression. Sleep Medicine. (Corrected Proof- ahead of publication).
Puri BK, Treasaden IH (2011). Chapter 14: Sleep Disorders. In: Textbook of Psychiatry, 3e. Churchill Livingstone, London; 250-265.