A study of the economic impact of sleep disorders demonstrates financial costs to Australia of $5.1 billion per year. This comprises $270 million for health care costs for the conditions themselves, $540 million for care of associated medical conditions attributable to sleep disorders, and about $4.3 billion largely attributable to associated productivity losses and non-medical costs resulting from sleep loss-related accidents. Loss of life quality added a substantial further non-financial cost.
Poor sleep is known to impart a significant personal and societal burden, and as a result it is important to have accurate estimates of its causes, prevalence, and the resultant costs, so as to better inform those who are creating the future health policy.
A recent evaluation of the sleep habits of Australians demonstrates that frequent sleep difficulties (initiating and maintaining sleep, and experiencing inadequate sleep), daytime fatigue, sleepiness and irritability are highly prevalent and range from 20%–35%. Frequent was defined as ‘daily or near daily’. These difficulties were found to be generally more prevalent among females, with the exception of snoring and similarly related difficulties. While about half of these problems are likely to be attributable to specific types of sleep disorder such as snoring and sleep apnea, the balance appears attributable to poor sleep habits or choices that limit sleep opportunity.
While large, these costs were assessed for those with sleep disorders alone.
Additional costs relating to inadequate sleep from poor sleep habits in people without sleep disorders were not considered. Based on the high prevalence of such problems and the known impacts of sleep loss in all its forms on health, productivity and safety, it is likely that these poor sleep habits would add substantially to these costs and probably double it.
Sleep is a basic and necessary biological process that demands to be satisfied but it is only recently that we have begun to understand the scale of the health and social consequences of insufficient sleep and associated sleep disorders such as snoring and OSA.
Sleep loss from these problems is associated with disturbances in cognitive and psychomotor function including mood, thinking, concentration, memory, learning, vigilance and reaction times. These disturbances have adverse effects on wellbeing, productivity, and safety. Insufficient sleep is also known to be a direct contributor to injury and death from motor vehicle and workplace accidents.
In addition, strong connections have been demonstrated between shortened sleep and a range of health problems including hypertension, type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and total mortality risk.
The Australian Sleep Health Foundation commissioned this extensive work and the results illustrate that a considerable proportion of Australians report frequent sleeping difficulties:
- 20% of respondents had frequent difficulty falling asleep, which was more prevalent among females and younger age groups.
- Frequent waking during the night was reported by 35% overall, again more commonly among females but increasing with age.
- Thirty-five per cent reported waking unrefreshed in the mornings
- 24% reported inadequate sleep at any time
- 22% complained of daytime sleepiness, fatigue and irritability
Snoring was widely reported by almost half those interviewed as a reason for disturbed nights, with poor quality sleep and daytime tiredness resulting for those disturbed. And in its worst most dangerous form many cases of sleep apnoea were recognized. Prevalence of sleep apnoea was derived by determining the proportion of respondents who snored loudly at least a few times a week and had observed breathing pauses during sleep at least a few times a month. An overall prevalence of 4.9% was noted, but in this case, prevalence was higher among males (6.4%) than females (3.6%).
The costs are massive whichever way examined, and individuals can do much on their own to reduce and even prevent the problem. As well as lifestyle solutions it is easy to acquire oral appliances and chin straps that not only stop snoring but also prevent the development of sleep apnoea, not just resulting in refreshing sleep, but improved health, and a longer life.