Lack of sleep shaves years off life - new study

Working South Africans need to spend more time in bed to increase their chances of living longer, a new study of sleeping habits has found. By skimping on the recommended seven to nine hours' sleep a night, people are potentially shaving years off their life due to chronic illness and disability associated with sleep deprivation, according to the study based on a sample of 658 staff of a local financial services company.

The results showed a major sleep deficit and consequent massive cost to the medical aid industry in terms of treating associated diseases. Not only are sleep-deprived employees at higher risk of life-threatening chronic illness and disability, they are less productive and more likely to cause workplace accidents, the study found.

Study author Charles King, an MBA student at the University of Stellenbosch Business School, said treatment costs associated with sleep deprivation could be as high as R22bn per annum for a single medical aid scheme.

"Lack of sleep is not only related to workplace issues such as absenteeism, lack of productivity, poor work performance and accidents – which have a direct cost impact on a business – but insufficient sleep has been directly linked with seven of the 15 leading causes of death," King said in a statement on Monday.

"The research looked at the indirect costs of lack of sleep, particularly the cost to medical schemes of treating illnesses where inadequate sleep is a major risk factor. We asked what the potential savings would be to a medical scheme if individuals just got enough sleep," said King.

He said that an average of less than seven hours' sleep increased the risk of developing major depression by 22%, coronary artery disease by 73%, type 2 diabetes by up to 18% and the risk of developing colorectal cancer by 50%.

Even one night of less than six hours sleep is equivalent to two sleepless nights in terms of impact on cognitive performance.

Employees would do well to adopt habits more conducive to longer sleep, such as reducing caffeine intake in the evenings and limiting "screen time" on smart phones and other devices, the study found

Said King: "Companies need to raise awareness of the benefits of adhering to a healthy sleep norm.

"Doctors who interact with patients must be aware of and communicate the risks of unhealthy sleep habits," he added.

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