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World Sleep Day: Sleeplessness Costs the World More Than a Trillion Dollars a Year

Allahabad: People sleep inside a concrete-pipe on a hot summer day, in Allahabad on Tuesday. (Image: PTI)

Allahabad: People sleep inside a concrete-pipe on a hot summer day, in Allahabad on Tuesday. (Image: PTI)

While India and China, the world's two most populous countries, can boast of huge workforces, a majority of employees are overworked in stressful conditions for not particularly high wages.

Shantanu David
  • Last Updated: March 15, 2019, 11:38 AM IST
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The bard may have written that we should "sleep, perchance to dream", the stresses of modern life and work are leading companies around the world to urge their employees to "sleep, perchance to earn".

This is due to spiralling economic losses being caused by lack of sleep, as employees are increasingly taking their work home, after already stressing out at their offices and subsequently losing out on rest, which in turn, affects their productivity and efficiency, ultimately, leading to economic detriment. This world sleep day, we look at the the world's economic loss caused by a lack of sleep.

In Japan, a culture of hardworking industry and absolute dedication to one's superiors and professional expectations are de rigeur across the board, with employees from the East Asian nation regularly ranked as being the most hardworking in the world.

Conversely, and perhaps consequently, Japanese people are among the most stressed in the world, with high suicide rates as well as the curious phenomenon of Karoshi, or death from overwork, which is peculiar to the country.

According to a study done by the RAND organisation, of five out of the 34 member nations of the OECD, the USA is "number 1" with the highest economic losses (up to $411 billion a year), while Japan comes in at second Japan (up to $138 billion a year). Germany and the UK both incur similar losses, of between $50-60 billion, and Canada manages to keep its financial losses from sleep deprivation to under 22$ billion.

Another study, which was conducted in Australia and published in the journal Sleep, estimated both the financial and non-financial costs of sleep in the land down under, using data derived from national surveys and databases between 2016 and 2017. While the financial costs were associated with health care (both formal and informal), productivity loss, as well as vehicular and other accidental costs, the non-financial costs were a loss of well-being. As per the study's conclusions, Australia incurs a loss of a little more than $45 billion a year.

Given that the economic loss of just the above six countries totals approximately $726 billion a year, one can infer that the total loss incurred by all the countries in the world would easily exceed a trillion. This is especially true given that there are two HUGE exclusions from the above list: namely China and India. While the world's two most populous countries can boast of huge workforces, a majority of employees are overworked in stressful conditions for not particularly high wages. And while the 'sleep debt' of the two countries would undoubtedly be astronomical, so far it's been incalculable, mostly thanks to a distinct lack of effort and interest on the part of authorities

While surveys, in which people have been asked about the quantity and quality of their sleep, have been performed in scores of countries around the world, actual data-driven and comprehensively researched government-funded studies are far fewer. The surveys are mostly conducted by private companies from medical, fitness and other health-related sectors, and are constricted by corporate concerns, selective surveyees limited to specific consumer groups, and a host of other special interests. Proper, empirical government-collected data studies on sleep deprivation and its economic costs remain a far-off dream for most countries.

According to a report by The Guardian, Japanese tech startups have begun addressing the “sleep debt”, leading to irritable and unproductive employees. Nextbeat, an IT service provider, incorporated two “strategic sleeping rooms” – one for men, the other for women – at its Tokyo headquarters. Reportedly, the aroma-infused rooms feature noise-cancelations device, which allow tired employees to grab some much needed duty sleep on comfortable sofas. Mobile phones, tablets and other electronics are banned.

The firm also asks its employees to leave work by 9pm and to refrain from excessive overtime, which has been claimed to lead to the recent spike in Karoshi.

Companies have also begun to offer financial incentives to keep employees from working overtime, and even making sure that they are getting enough rest, by tracking their sleep cycles through apps and devices, and then rewarding those who are getting enough shut-eye.

We guess all that's left to ask is, "humara number kab aayega?"

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