Tired young worker

Can’t focus at work? Research published in June 2023 in the Medical Journal of Australia says your insomnia may be causing your workplace productivity to plummet.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from 554 22-year-old Australian workers who had undergone sleep disorder screening as part of the study. The screenings were completed in a sleep lab and combined with work performance questionnaires. 

Sleep disorders were diagnosed in 21.7% of the workers. Insomnia was the most common issue, with 17% of the young adult workers diagnosed. Another 5.4% were diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, and 0.4% with restless leg syndrome. The scientists found that workers with sleep disorders were 40 percent less productive than their peers who did not have a sleep disorder.

“This is equivalent to total workplace productivity loss (followed up on multiple occasions across 12 months) of about four weeks for young people with clinically significant sleep disorders, compared with less than one week for those without,” says Flinders University Associate Professor in Clinical Sleep Health Amy Reynolds, Ph.D., who led the study.

This loss of productivity was due to what Reynolds calls “presenteeism.” Workers show up to their jobs but simply can’t work to their full capacity or potential. This is significant since previous research with the same study group found that one in five workers had a sleep disorder – most of whom had no idea of their diagnosis until after they participated in a sleep study .

Insomnia is a common but underrecognized problem that can impact a person’s work performance by affecting memory, learning and concentration. The results can be costly. One study estimates the annual cost of U.S. workplace errors and accidents linked to insomnia at $31.1 billion .   

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The fix for this issue in young workers, researchers say, is tailored interventions that will help identify and manage sleep disorders like insomnia. Primary care doctors and occupational health providers could assist with this process by screening young adults for insomnia and offering individualized treatment. Given the fact that sleep disorders are more common as people age – about 43 percent of people aged 45 to 65 have a sleep disorder – early diagnosis could benefit productivity, safety, and wellbeing, according to the study.

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4 Sources

  1. Reynolds, A. C., Coenen, P., Lechat, B., Straker, L., Zabatiero, J., Maddison, K. J., Adams, R. J., & Eastwood, P. (2023). Insomnia and workplace productivity loss among young working adults: a prospective observational study of clinical sleep disorders in a community cohort. The Medical journal of Australia, 10.5694/mja2.52014. Advance online publication.

  2. McArdle, N., Ward, S. V., Bucks, R. S., Maddison, K., Smith, A., Huang, R. C., Pennell, C. E., Hillman, D. R., & Eastwood, P. R. (2020). The prevalence of common sleep disorders in young adults: a descriptive population-based study. Sleep, 43(10), zsaa072.

  3. Shahly, V., Berglund, P. A., Coulouvrat, C., Fitzgerald, T., Hajak, G., Roth, T., Shillington, A. C., Stephenson, J. J., Walsh, J. K., & Kessler, R. C. (2012). The associations of insomnia with costly workplace accidents and errors: results from the America Insomnia Survey. Archives of general psychiatry, 69(10), 1054–1063.

  4. McArdle, N., Reynolds, A. C., Hillman, D., Moses, E., Maddison, K., Melton, P., & Eastwood, P. (2022). Prevalence of common sleep disorders in a middle-aged community sample. Journal of clinical sleep medicine : JCSM : official publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 18(6), 1503–1514.


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