Asleep on the Job: Costs of Inadequate Sleep in Australia


What is the report about?

The report investigated the economic consequences of inadequate sleep.

Inadequate sleep and daytime excessive sleepiness can arise from poor personal sleep habits, shift work or when people experience common sleep disorders such as insomnia and obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA).

What is the cost to the Australian economy of inadequate sleep?

  • The total cost of inadequate sleep in Australia was estimated to be $66.3 billion in 2016 – 17
  • This total is made up of $26.2 billion in financial costs and $40.1 billion in the loss of wellbeing.
  • The $26.2 billion in financial costs due to inadequate sleep are estimated to be as follows:
  • health system costs of $1.8 billion, or $246 per person with inadequate sleep;
  • productivity losses of $17.9 billion, or $2,418 per person with inadequate sleep;
  • informal care costs of $0.6 billion, or $82 per person with inadequate sleep; and
  • other costs (inc. welfare payments, tax losses) of $5.9 billion or $802 per person with inadequate sleep
  • The $40.1 billion in loss of wellbeing is estimated using World Health Organisation and Australian Government metrics which assess the non-financial costs of healthy life lost through disability and premature death from inadequate sleep and associated conditions.

How prevalent is inadequate sleep and what are its consequences?

  • The report found that inadequate sleep is highly prevalent in Australia with an estimated 39.8% of Australian adults experiencing some form of inadequate sleep.
  • It affects Australians of all ages, with inadequate sleep affecting learning and decision-making as well as increasing the risk of mental and physical illness.
  • Inadequate sleep can lead directly to fatality or work-related accidents. Two examples include falling asleep while driving, and medical staff making medication errors when on shifts.
  • Chronic inadequate sleep can cause heart disease, obesity, depression and a range of other serious health conditions which impacts the health budget.

What can be done?

  • A strong case exists for implementing public preventive health measures to promote healthy sleep, as has been done in other areas involving lifestyle choice, such as smoking cessation, alcohol moderation, diet and exercise.
  • Work Health and Safety authorities should tighten regulation in work sectors where sleep is irregular but responsibility is high, such as defence, transport and health.
  • Changes to shift work scheduling that use evidence-based principles minimising disruption to the circadian and sleep wake systems need to be promoted.
  • As lack of sleep causes a large proportion of motor vehicle accidents – estimated to be 23% of the total – police services should devote as much attention to tired and fatigued drivers as they do to speeding and inebriated ones.
  • Just as there are rules forbidding driving after consuming an excessive amount of alcohol, implementing driving restrictions where the driver has had less than a set minimum hours of sleep in the past 24 hours may be warranted.
  • Normal computer screens emit light at wavelengths that affect the major sleep-promoting hormone and thus late evening computer use reduces next day alertness. Government agencies should set an example by providing software (often free) to their employees that reduces exposure to the computer screen light at harmful wave-lengths.
  • Ultimately, the responsibility for reducing fatigue must be shared amongst government, industry, the workforce, the public and the scientific community.
  • Behavioural economics has shown that carefully worded education campaigns can be of minimal cost and highly effective.  Reducing poor sleep behaviour will result in gains in productivity and thus taxation revenue, and savings in health system costs could offset any expenditure outlays.
  • Supporting further research and monitoring in the area of sleep will help establish evidence bases for potential regulation, practice and policy regarding fatigue, sleep and accident risk.

Who commissioned this report?

This is the third report commissioned by the Sleep Health Foundation about the costs and consequences of sleep disorders and/or poor sleep. Previous reports were published in 2003 and 2010.

We are Australia’s leading advocate for healthy sleep, governed by a volunteer board of sleep experts.  We aim to deliver a successful program of health promotion through broadcast and social media, and community education.

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