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Feeling sleepy? You may be costing the US economy $411 billion

For while now, economists have been puzzling over why the global economy has been acting so sluggish.

Maybe it's because you are.

Lack of sleep is becoming endemic in the modern world. It's now so widespread the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently called it a "public health problem."

Researchers on one 2009 study found that 38 percent of respondents reported unintentionally falling asleep during the day at least once in the preceding month, and 4.7 percent reported nodding off or falling asleep while driving during the same period.

It's not hard to see why. Increased reliance on shift work, longer commute times and the 27/7 demands of a wired world have conspired to chip away at the hours devoted to sleep.

One study that relied on personal time diaries found that the number of "short sleepers" — those who got fewer than six hours of sleep a night — rose 22 percent from 1975 to 2006. Not surprisingly, the odds of getting shortchanged on sleep rose the more hours study participants reported they worked.

Researchers at RAND Europe, an affiliate of the U.S.-based RAND Corporation, decided to try to quantity how much all this drowsiness was costing.

"The effects from a lack of sleep are massive," said. Marco Hafner, the report's main author. "Sleep deprivation not only influences an individual's health and wellbeing but has a significant impact on a nation's economy, with lower productivity levels and a higher mortality risk among workers."

Add it all up, and the RAND study estimates that the lack of sleep among the working population is costing the U.S. economy up to $411 billion a year, or about 2.28 percent of gross domestic product.

And that's just in the U.S. In Japan, yawning workers cost that economy $138 billion, or 2.92 percent of GDP. Germany loses up to $60 billion a year, or 1.56 percent of GDP, to employees nodding off. In the U.K., lethargic workers cost that economy up to $50 billion, or 1.86 percent of GDP.


Canadian, the researchers found, sleep better than those in the other countries studied. But they still lose some $21.4 billion, or around 1.35 percent of GDP, by not getting a full night's rest.

The researchers looked at multiple economic impacts, including the increased odds that burning the candle at both ends can kill you. Insufficient sleep has been linked with seven of the fifteen leading causes of death in the U. S., they noted, including cardiovascular disease, accidents, diabetes, and hypertension.

Too little sleep also puts a serious damper on worker productivity.

Aside from a general lack of focus that makes it harder to finish the next spreadsheet, sleep-deprived workers are more likely to be responsible for industrial accidents, medical errors and potentially life-threatening lapses. The researchers noted that fatigue has been linked to a number of catastrophic accidents including the Chernobyl nuclear explosion, the Three Mile Island nuclear incident and the Exxon Valdez spill.

Sleep deprived workers are more likely to be absent from work due to sickness or show up and have a hard time keeping up with their work. The researchers also factored in the impact of sleep deficits on school age students, whose education suffers and hampers the academic performance they'll need to get a good-paying job later in life.