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The Cost of Poor Sleep

Sleep apnea, a health condition marked by abnormal sleep breathing during sleep, often goes underdiagnosed and can have a major financial impact on individuals.  A 2016 report by the Rand Corporation estimated that poor sleep costs American companies hundreds of billions per year. Lack of sleep is linked to high-dollar conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes, motor vehicle or workplace accidents, and compensating behaviors such as the substance abuse of pills, tobacco and alcohol. Indirect economic costs can include decreased productivity at work, reduced quality of life, and stress on interpersonal relationships. Company executives may be at a higher risk for sleep apnea due to the demands and stressful conditions of their jobs.

Worldwide, over 100 million people suffer from it and 23.5 million remain undiagnosed in the United States. One in four people suffer from sleep apnea, including 3-7% of men and 2-5% of women.

There are several types of sleep apnea, but the most common is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This type of apnea occurs when the throat muscles intermittently relax and block the airway during sleep. A noticeable sign of obstructive sleep apnea is snoring. Various studies have shown individuals under 50 years of age with OSA have a reduced life expectancy of 8-18 years. Sleep apnea can lead to daytime sleepiness, fatigue and irritability, as well as:

  • Loud snoring.
  • Observed episodes of stopped breathing during sleep.
  • Abrupt awakenings accompanied by gasping or choking.
  • Awakening with a dry mouth or sore throat.
  • Morning headaches.
  • Difficulty concentrating during the day.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Nighttime sweating.

Factors that increase the risk of this form of sleep apnea include:

  • Excess weight. Obesity greatly increases the risk of sleep apnea.
  • Neck circumference leading to a narrow airway. People with thicker necks might have narrower airways.
  • Being male. Men are two to three times more likely to have sleep apnea than are women. However, women increase their risk if they’re overweight, and their risk also appears to rise after menopause, or if they have polycystic ovary disease.
  • Being older. Sleep apnea occurs more often in patients over 50 years old.
  • Family history. Having family members with sleep apnea might increase your risk.
  • Use of alcohol, or sedating medications. These substances relax the muscles in your throat, which can worsen obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Smokers are three times more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea than are people who’ve never smoked.
  • Nasal congestion.If you have difficulty breathing through your nose, whether from an anatomical problem or allergies, you’re more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Medical conditions.Congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and Parkinson’s disease are some of the conditions that may increase the risk of obstructive sleep apnea. Chronic lung conditions such as asthma can also increase the risk of obstructive sleep apnea.

How can I prevent this?

Diagnosis of OSA usually starts with an evaluation from a primary care, concierge or executive health physician. The Harness Health Partners Executive Health Team, for example, has diagnosed several executives over the past year with OSA, as an important part of their executive health physical.

Diagnosis is accomplished by the combination of an at-home sleep assessment, followed by an in-lab overnight assessment, then confirmed by a board-certified sleep medicine physician. Once diagnosed, the normal course of treatment may include the use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. 

A CPAP is prescribed and managed by a sleep management physician. Harness Health Partners’ clients that were treated with CPAP therapy have reported better sleep, less daytime drowsiness, and an overall well-rested feeling.

About Harness Health Partners

Harness Health Partners, a division of Bon Secours Mercy Health, is an employer health solutions company. We aim to harness the power of a healthy workforce by building effective partnerships, increasing productivity and lowering health care costs.

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