The Cost of Fatigue

Chronic illness affects more than just the health of the person who lives with it; the economic costs are also significant. Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is one such illness that affects millions of Americans, many of whom are undiagnosed, untreated, and may not even know they have it. And according to a report from Harvard Medical School, the economic cost of unmanaged OSA in the US is as high as $165 billion.

Putting a Price on Sleepiness

According to the Price of Fatigue: McKinsey and Harvard Medical School Report the economic cost of unmanaged OSA in the US is between $65 billion and $165 billion. The University of Maryland Medical Center breaks it down further, noting that the direct cost of sleep-related issues is $16 billion and the indirect cost somewhere between $50 – $100 billion. Such indirect costs include traffic accidents, lost productivity and treatment of other medical conditions caused by obstructive sleep apnea (heart disease, strokes and high blood pressure).

The direct costs of fatigue

To get an idea of the “big picture”, consider these statistics: 

  • OSA-related traffic accidents are estimated to cost between $12 billion and $39 billion per year (not including medical costs)
  • OSA-related workplace accidents cost the economy between $7 and 22 billion per year
  • OSA-related lost productivity costs the economy at least $3 billion and perhaps as much as 15 billion per year

The indirect costs matter too

The price of sleep deprivation goes well beyond these statistics, however, when the indirect costs are factored in. The Harvard study notes these indirect costs, among others:

  • Depression and other mental health treatment
  • Marital unhappiness: cost of counseling or divorce
  • Investigative and legal costs associated with motor vehicle accidents, as well as autopsies and funerals

The Harvard report focuses on fatigue that can be caused by circumstances other than sleep apnea. For example, the average work week for a medical resident is 96 hours, and one study found that sleep-deprived residents make 36% more medical errors than those who work a shorter week.

Simply stated, the direct and indirect costs of fatigue are astronomically high in the United States, affecting the health and safety of individuals and communities.

If you’re experiencing excessive tiredness or other issues with sleep, take the sleepiness quiz and discuss the results with your doctor.

Sleepiness Quiz

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Photo Credit: Dave C

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