The cost of poor sleep

Most people need an alarm clock to wake up early in the morning on workdays [RPZW19]. However, the artificial shortening of sleep through the use of an alarm clock means that the body has not completed its regeneration process. We do not wake up because we have finished sleeping, but because of social obligations.

Because people pay so much attention to social times, it is easy to miss what we actually do when shifting to Daylight Saving Time: we force people unwillingly to wake up one hour earlier. And, unsurprisingly, that is what is continuously reported: people sleep less and worse during Daylight Saving Time [BaWa09, JiZi20, WBLF12].

Unfortunately it is still claimed that one gets used to the summer time, but without any scientific basis for this statement [BrPh20, Clea20, Medi20]. This is dangerous misinformation, as scientific studies in fact show (see myth “You get used to it”).

It is undisputed that sleeping well makes us happier, more productive, more relaxed, and better thinkers. Insufficient sleep, on the other hand, is involved in increased mortality and morbidity, which means an increase in healthcare expenditure. But there are also other losses, like a loss in productivity, an increase in work-related accidents, and poor decision-making, all of which ultimately end up costing the Economy billions of euros [HSTT16]. Data collected on 5 industrialized nations, Canada, USA, Germany, UK, and Japan, supports that there is a combined 680-billion-euro loss each year. The figure below shows the individual values for each nation, along with its relative percentage of that nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).


Figure 1. Source:  [HSTT16]

To put it into perspective, table 1 compares the economic cost of insufficient sleep to the investment per nation in “research and development” and “healthcare”. If nations would create better conditions for sleep, not only would that lower healthcare costs, but also independently regain enough capital to sponsor 50-100% of R&D programs.

Table 1: Comparison of expenditure in R&D, Healthcare, and the economic cost of insufficient sleep as percentage of GDP.

For Germany, it was estimated that 30% of people are sleeping less than 7 hours (9% sleep less than 6 hours and 21% sleep between 6 and 7 hours [HSTT16]. Other sources even speak about 80% sleeping less than 7 hours [RoWK19] .

Switching to a year-round standard time would increase the average length of sleep and thus reduce the economic costs of inadequate sleep, thereby reducing the overall economic costs.