Sleep experts agree that we need at least seven hours of sleep to function at our best. However, if an uninterrupted seven hours of shut-eye sounds like an unusual luxury to you, you’re not alone. In fact, 4 out of 10 adults are sleep deprived and approximately half of those adults have insomnia. Sleep problems impact wide-ranging factors such as mental health, diabetes, cardiovascular health, and obesity and have been linked to 7 of the 15 leading causes of death.

In this blog post, I extract the main findings from my latest white paper, Why Sleep Matters, which references findings from over 50 published academic articles. The results may have you rethinking the next time you skimp on sleep.

What is sleep deprivation and how common is it?

Experts agree that 7-9 hours of sleep are necessary for optimal health and wellbeing. However, in working populations, as many as 40% of adults are sleep deprived, or regularly getting less than 7 hours of sleep. A faction of this 40% are ‘sleep stealers’ who feel they do not have the time to sleep 7+ hours. However, 10-20% of adults have insomnia, a clinically diagnosable disease where patients have trouble sleeping for 3+ nights per week no matter how hard they try. It’s almost certain you know someone with insomnia. 

What makes insomnia different from lack of sleep?

It’s common to have occassional sleep problems depending on personal factors or a particularly addicting TV series. However, if you have insomnia, a vicious cycle exists where poor sleep begets more poor sleep, seemingly endlessly. Without effective treatment, insomnia is remarkably persistent, with at least 60% of poor sleepers still suffering from the same symptoms a year later.

How do sleep problems influence health outcomes and behaviors?

Sleep plays an essential role in regulating our emotions, behavior, and physiology. In fact, lack of sleep has been linked with 7 of the 15 leading causes of death in the United States, including heart disease, cancer, stroke, accidents, diabetes, septicaemia and hypertension. In many cases, sleep has been linked to these outcomes independent of lifestyle behaviors such as smoking and exercise, meaning sleep alone is sufficient to drive negative health outcomes.

However, having less energy and willpower during the day can also interfere with our best intentions when it comes to healthy living. Lack of sleep can increase our susceptibility to health degrading behaviors such as smoking, alcoholism, and poor diet.

In our infographic below we explore the influences of sleep on a selection of key health outcomes and behaviors.

What does this mean for employers?

In summary, insomnia is prevalent and persistent in approximately one fifth of the population. This has real impacts on the health and wellbeing of employees. Employees with insomnia have 75% higher healthcare costs than those that do not. Given the overwhelming evidence on the importance of sleep, it’s clear sleep is an aspect of mental health that employers can no longer ignore.

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