Not getting enough sleep? You’re not alone — and that’s bad for all of us

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More than a quarter of Canadians get fewerthan seven hours of sleep every day, and it’s harming their health and the economy as a whole.

According to a report published Friday by the Rand Corporation, the situation isn’t as dire in Canada as it is in some other developed economies, but it’s nonetheless a matter of public concern.

Health experts recommend that adult humans need just under eight hours of sleep every night, on average, and the consequences of not getting that on a consistent basis are far more serious than just feeling worn out.

Rand compared information from various existing peer-reviewed surveys dealing with people in the U.S., Japan, the UK, Germany and Canada, and imposed various econometric models on the result.

The eye-opening conclusion? We’re not getting nearly enough shut-eye.

Costs Canada $21B

About 20 per cent of Canadians get between six and seven hours of sleep every night. And six per cent consistently get less than six hours a night.

That may sound like a mere nuisance, but the reality is there are serious consequences for those people and the economy as a whole. “Insufficient sleep has been found to be associated with a range of negative health and social outcomes, including adverse performance effects at school and in the labour market,” the report said.

In the U.S, the equivalent of almost 10 million working hours are lost every year due to employees who are too tired to work as efficiently as they would normally do — or play hooky to catch up on sleep.

In Japan, the situation is about half as bad, with the total tally at 4.8 million working hours a year.

Germany and the U.K. came next, with an average of 1.65 million working hours lost every year.

Canada, meanwhile, loses about 600,000 working hours every year to lack of sleep.

The losses to the economy include not just hours of work lost, but reduced productivity, health costs, premature deaths and inability of students to learn properly and reach their full potential.

In Canada, even at that comparatively low level of sleep deprivation, it knocks off more than $21 billion from the economy every year, the report estimated. That’s roughly 1.35 per cent of Canada’s GDP, and about what Canadians spent on alcohol in 2016.

It’s more than just a nuisance, too.

A lack of sleep has been linked with seven of the 15 leading causes of death in the United States, including cardiovascular disease, malignant neoplasm, cerebrovascular disease, accidents, diabetes, septicaemia and hypertension.

And major accidents and catastrophes including the Chernobyl nuclear explosion, the Three Mile Island nuclear incident, the Exxon Valdez spill and the space shuttle Challenger tragedy have all been linked with a lack of sleep, Rand noted.

Major causes of lack of sleep

All in all, the risk of mortality is believed to increase by about 13 per cent for someone who is consistently not getting enough sleep.

The paper summarizes a few of the known risk factors associated with lack of sleep:

  • BMI — People with a body mass index considered to be overweight or obese sleep on average between about 2.5 minutes to seven minutes less per night, on average.
  • Smoking — Smokers sleep on average five minutes less every night.
  • Gender — Men sleep on average nine minutes less than women do every night.
  • Sugary drinks — Have been associated with 3.4 minutes less sleep every night.
  • Shift work — People with irregular working hours tend to get 2.7 minutes less sleep every night.
  • Commuting — People with commutes of between 30-60 minutes each way tend to get 9.2 minutes less sleep. Those with longer commutes of more than an hour fare even worse, with 16.5 minutes less sleep.
  • Exercise — People who get less than two hours of activity per week tend to get 2.6 minutes less sleep than those who exercise.
  • Mental health — People with medium to high risk of mental-health problems sleep on average 17.2 minutes less per day than those with low risk.

Those numbers may sound small in the abstract, but they can add up. An overweight male smoker who commutes an hour each way to his shift work job would average about more than 28 minutes less sleep every day.

Over a year, that’s 173 fewer hours of sleep — or the equivalent of 21 entire nights worth.

“Sleep deprivation adversely affects individuals through negative effects on their health and well-being and is also costly for employers due to lost working time by employees, which is associated with large economic losses,” the report said, so “solving the problem of insufficient sleep represents a potential ‘win-win’ situation for individuals, employers and the wider society.”

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Not getting enough sleep? You’re not alone — and that’s bad for all of us

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