Cover: Why sleep matters — the economic costs of insufficient sleep

Why sleep matters — the economic costs of insufficient sleep

A cross-country comparative analysis

Published Nov 30, 2016

by Marco Hafner, Martin Stepanek, Jirka Taylor, Wendy M. Troxel, Christian Van Stolk

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Research Questions

  1. What are the factors associated with short sleep duration and poor sleep quality?
  2. What does the existing evidence say about the link between insufficient sleep and mortality risk?
  3. What are economic effects of insufficient sleep?

The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States has declared insufficient sleep a 'public health problem'. Indeed, according to a recent CDC study, more than a third of American adults are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis.

However, insufficient sleep is not exclusively a US problem, and equally concerns other industrialised countries such as the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, or Canada. According to some evidence, the proportion of people sleeping less than the recommended hours of sleep is rising and associated with lifestyle factors related to a modern 24/7 society, such as psychosocial stress, alcohol consumption, smoking, lack of physical activity and excessive electronic media use, among others.

This is alarming as insufficient sleep has been found to be associated with a range of negative health and social outcomes, including success at school and in the labour market. Over the last few decades, for example, there has been growing evidence suggesting a strong association between short sleep duration and elevated mortality risks.

Given the potential adverse effects of insufficient sleep on health, well-being and productivity, the consequences of sleep-deprivation have far-reaching economic consequences. Hence, in order to raise awareness of the scale of insufficient sleep as a public-health issue, comparative quantitative figures need to be provided for policy- and decision-makers, as well as recommendations and potential solutions that can help tackling the problem.

Key Findings

The US sustains by far the highest economic losses (up to $411 billion a year) due to the size of its economy, followed by Japan (up to $138 billion a year).

However, the relative numbers show that the estimated loss for Japan is actually higher than for the US (between 1.56 to 2.28 per cent for the US and 1.86 per cent to 2.92 per cent for Japan, respectively), with the UK (1.36 per cent to 1.86 per cent), Germany (1.02 per cent to 1.56 per cent) and Canada (0.85 per cent to 1.56 per cent) following behind.

On an annual basis, the US loses an equivalent of about 1.23 million working days due to insufficient sleep.

This is followed by Japan, which loses on average 604 thousand working days per year. The UK and Germany have similar working time lost, with 207 thousand and 209 thousand days, respectively. Canada loses about 78 thousand working days.

Sleep deprivation is linked to a higher mortality risk.

An individual that sleeps on average less than six hours per night has a ten per cent higher mortality risk than someone sleeping between seven and nine hours. An individual sleeping between six to seven hours per day still has a four per cent higher mortality risk.


  • To improve sleep outcomes, individuals should: Set consistent wake-up times; limit the use of electronic items before bedtime; and exercise.
  • Employers should: Recognise the importance of sleep and the employer's role in its promotion; design and build brighter workspaces; combat workplace psychosocial risks; and discourage the extended use of electronic devices.
  • Public authorities should: Support health professionals in providing sleep-related help; encourage employers to pay attention to sleep issues; and introduce later school starting times.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was prepared for Vitality Health and conducted by RAND Europe.

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