The Sleep Loss Epidemic: the huge social, medical, and economic costs of sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation–a consistent shortage of sleep–is a serious problem in the United States. A Gallup poll taken in 20131 found that 40% of Americans get less than seven hours of sleep per night. That means that two in five Americans is not getting the recommended amount of sleep

Sleep Loss as a Nationwide Issue

At this point, so many Americans are affected by less-than-optimal sleep–and the costs of this drowsiness are so high–that even experts agree that it has taken on the severity of an epidemic.

Public Health Epidemic

The extent of sleep loss in the United States is so severe that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have declared that insufficient sleep is a “public health epidemic”According to their research:2

  • 23.2% of Americans have problems concentrating during the day
  • 11.3% say lack of sleep interfered with driving
  • 8.6% reported that sleep deficiency interfered with job performance.
  • Shockingly, nearly 40% reported unintentionally falling asleep during the day at some point in the prior month. 

The Cost of Sleep Deprivation

Such widespread sleep deprivation has enormous economic, medical, environmental, and health costs for the United States. Here are just a few examples: 

  • Scientists from Harvard estimate that sleep deprivation costs the American economy $62.3 billion per year in lost productivity.3
  • Several environmental disasters, like the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl and the Exxon Valdez oil spill, have been linked to human error caused by sleep deprivation4
  • Over 400,000 Americans die per year from preventable medical errors, making them the 3rd biggest cause of death in the US5. Overworked, under-rested doctors who work traditional long shifts made 36% more errors than better-rested physicians with a reduced schedule6.   
  • About 60% of adult drivers admit to driving while drowsy7. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 100,000 police-reported crashes per year are directly caused by sleep deprivation.
  • That’s not even to mention the individual effects of sleep deprivation, which range from lack of concentration to increased risk of serious medical conditions.

You can fight sleep deprivation 

Undoubtedly, part of the reason for these statistics is that there is a culture of sleep deprivation in the United States. Whether due to the temptations of the Internet, the demands of their career or work schedule, or the impression that sleeping too much is “weak” or “lazy”, people often push aside sleep in favor of other activities. 

Changing this mentality starts on an individual level. Once you actually realize how detrimental sleep deprivation can be, it becomes clear that the personal and societal costs of being sleepy are not worth the extra few hours of wakefulness. 

If you’re ready to combat sleep deprivation, a really important first step is educating yourself about the importance of sleep and healthy sleep habits.

Take the sleepiness quiz


1) “In U.S., 40% Get Less than Recommended Amount of Sleep.”

2) Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), Sleep Disorders Questionnaire (2005-2006 and 2007-2008). Data and analysis reported in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, March 4, 2011. CDC website.

3) Kessler, Ronald C, PhD, et al. “Insomnia and the Performance of US Workers: Results from the America Insomnia Survey.” Sleep Journal.

4) Harvey R. Colten and Bruce M. Altevogt, eds., for the Institute of Medicine (U.S.) Committee on Sleep Medicine and Research, Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem (Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2006).

5) James, John T. PhD. “A New, Evidence-based Estimate of Patient Harms Associated with Hospital Care.” Journal of Patient Safety.

6) Christopher P. Landrigan, M.D., M.P.H., et al. “Effect of Reducing Interns’ Work Hours on Serious Medical Errors in Intensive Care Units.” New England Journal of Medicine.

7) 2005 Sleep in America Poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation.

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  5. Jacob Duran Reply

    Starting with oneself, this way of thinking needs to change. It becomes obvious that the personal and societal costs of being drowsy are not worth the additional few hours of consciousness once you fully understand how harmful sleep deprivation can be.

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