Why should a company be concerned about sleep apnea?

Q:

Why should a company be concerned about sleep apnea?

A:

The inability to sleep well means more than just a grumpy employee. Adequate rest is necessary for the brain and body. Without proper sleep, there can be serious—and costly—consequences for a company.

Sleep apnea is a condition that occurs when a person stops breathing while sleeping. While there are several types of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea is one of the most common. For a few seconds up to a minute, multiple times each hour, the airways closes off, preventing air from getting in or out of the lungs; this cessation of breathing is called apnea. The result is a drop in the body’s oxygen level and the sleeper rouses or wakes, often gasping for air. Apnea can occur up to 30 times an hour or 400 times a night. In the morning, there is no sense of feeling rested or refreshed. Over time, chronic sleep deprivation can lead to serious mental, neurological, and cardiac problems.

Employers are correct to be concerned about the health of any worker with sleep apnea. Research shows the following effects, compared to rested co-workers:

  • Three times greater likelihood of accidents at work
  • 40% more excessive daytime sleepiness
  • 40% more depression
  • Six times more likely to die in a car accident
  • Concentration and decision-making problems
  • Increased chance of developing heart problems, having a stroke or heart attack
  • Higher rates of dementia, cancer, diabetes, and fibromyalgia

Sleep apnea also affects a company’s bottom line. An employee with undiagnosed sleep apnea costs $6,091 each year, due to absenteeism, job injuries, and lost productivity. Since sleep apnea is a progressive disease, health issues and medical-related expenses also climb.

Who is at risk to develop sleep apnea?

  • Men
  • Anyone overweight or obese
  • Smokers
  • Alcohol or tranquilizer abusers
  • Older people

If your company offers a wellness program, consider launching an awareness campaign; it’s estimated that 80% of sleep apnea is undiagnosed. You can also educate managers to watch for signs of sleep deprivation and suggest that the employee follow-up with a health provider. Diagnosis is easily done with a physical examination and a sleep study. The treatment is using a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) mask at night. The mask fits over the nose and mouth, gently blowing air into the throat and airway. The pressure prevents apnea, as well as snoring and nighttime waking. The result is a dramatic return to restorative sleep and improved job productivity.

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Written by Suzanne Ball
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Suzanne Ball is an experienced Registered Nurse with a Masters Degree in Health Sciences. She has worked in a variety of settings, including acute care, quality improvement, and research. She is a freelance writer who specializes in writing about medical and health topics.

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