Sleep is cheap: Invest to Improve Overall Health and Health Care

The rising costs of health care paint a daunting picture for consumers, employers, insurers, doctors and hospitals alike.  My modest proposal? The one thing everyone could use a little more of is sleep—for the sake of individual well-being and the economic wellness of our health care system.  According to a study from the CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), nearly 1/3 of American workers get too little sleep.

The “Big Three” for achieving and maintaining health? Sleep, diet and exercise.

In today’s society more and more people understand the importance of diet and exercise, but many consider sleep a luxury and not a necessity.  Though our bodies require, on average, eight hours of sleep every night, many Americans do not achieve that amount. For one reason or another, sleep is frequently the first casualty of our busy schedules and 24-hour culture.

As a result, sleep disorders continue to rise, according to the National Sleep Foundation.  There is an unrecognized, yet serious relationship between poor sleep and accumulating poor health.  The McKinsey Quarterly report titled “Three Imperatives for Improving US Health Care,” notes that “…about two-thirds of all deaths in the United States now result from chronic diseases most often induced by behavior and lifestyle—for instance obesity and related chronic conditions, type 2 diabetes, smoking-related cancers, and alcohol-related liver disease.”

Sleep loss and sleep disorders are expensive. The $4.5 billion (CDC cited by NBC Today show) cost that accounts for 60 million sleeping pill prescriptions written in 2012 (IMS Health as cited in the New York Times ) is small in comparison to the Institute of Medicine’s estimate that “hundreds of billions of dollars a year are spent on direct medical costs related to sleep disorders such as doctor visits, hospital services, prescriptions, and over-the-counter medications.”

What’s more, the direct costs of managing sleep disorders are not nearly as expensive as indirect financial costs resulting from the daytime effects of sleep deprivation. Many of the costs are attributable to medical co-morbidities and accidents and injuries: increased hospitalization for psychological impairments such as depression, insomnia that translates into alcohol abuse as the individual tries to get to sleep, work-related injuries associated with excessive drowsiness, reduced workplace productivity and motor vehicle accidents.

While we often hear that we should “spend” a third of our lives sleeping, I believe that we should be sure to invest eight hours each night in restorative sleep that will pay off in increased health and wellbeing.