The High Cost of Sleep Disorders

Americans aren’t sleeping enough and it’s taking a toll on our businesses and our health. Sleep disorders are serious issues, and it’s necessary to be aware of the health risks that come with them.

According to Gallup, the average American sleeps about 6.8 hours each night — an hour less than our parents and grandparents did in 1942. Some may argue that’s because we’re working harder and being productive than ever before, but the data doesn’t back that up.

In 2011, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine reported that insomnia costs the U.S. economy more than $63 billion per year in lost productivity. This price tag has likely only gone up in recent years, as glowing tablets and smartphones replace the traditional bedtime story.

Sleep Disorders, Prices Rise

It should come as no surprise that more Americans are being diagnosed with sleep disorders — and those diagnoses aren’t without their costs.

Sleep test costs can range from $200 for in-home testing to $1,000 in an independent freestanding center to more than $1,700 in a hospital outpatient department. Given that most people pay 20 percent to 25 percent directly out of their own pocket for these tests, that’s real money patients could use to buy groceries, make a car payment or pay tuition bills. All too often, this money gets spent because most people aren’t aware of the cost differences between common tests.

Let’s take a closer look at one particularly common and costly condition: sleep apnea.

More than 12 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea and many are undiagnosed, according to the National Institutes of Health. It’s a condition caused by the obstruction of the upper airway that results in repetitive pauses in breathing during sleep, which can lead to daytime sleepiness or fatigue. Sleep apnea also increases health risks, such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, depression, weight gain and obesity.

While a home-based test ordered by a physician is likely appropriate for 70 percent to 80 percent of patients with suspected sleep apnea, a national analysis by Anthem’s AIM Specialty Health division found only 25 percent to 30 percent of all sleep apnea testing takes place at home.

Productivity Falters

In addition to financial costs, poor sleep has a tremendous impact on the productivity of your workforce. Sleep helps us think clearly, so we can assess risks and make good decisions. It also affects learning, memory and reaction time. According to the American Psychological Association and the National Institutes of Health, lack of sleep leads to many unintended consequences, including:

  • Sickness – A lack of sleep weakens the immune system.
  • Weight gain – Sleep deprivation disrupts your metabolism. The fewer people sleep, the more likely they are to be overweight or obese and to crave foods high in calories and carbohydrates.
  • Relationship problems – Irritability and mood swings from lack of sleep make it hard for others to be around you.
  • Poor performance – Poor judgment and problems concentrating, combined with an irritable mood, is a recipe for failure at your job or at school.
  • Shorter lifespan – People who don’t get enough sleep are at greater risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, depression and accidental death.

Providing Help

To help remedy this, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield implemented a phone-based intervention. Now, whenever an Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield member receives an order to get tested at a center that’s at least $300 higher than other similar accredited facilities in a 30-mile radius, the member receives a call with information about lower cost alternatives nearby. The person making that call can even help reschedule the test to a more cost-effective facility if the member so chooses.

If you’re suffering from sleep-related health issues, ask your doctor whether you qualify for in-home sleep testing. If not, ask questions about the costs of similar quality sleep testing facilities because they can range widely in price and directly affect your out-of-pocket costs.

Admittedly, there’s only so much an employer can do to convince employees to get enough sleep. That said, don’t underestimate the role your workplace culture plays in encouraging people to get a good night’s rest. Quick returns can be produced simply by making sure sleep education is a part of your ongoing wellness programs and reminding staff that it’s expected they’ll unplug from work emails and other distractions at the end of the day to catch some decent shut-eye.