ACOEM Addresses Sleep Disorders for National Sleep Awareness Month

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Awareness campaign for the workplace provides tools and information on preventing and managing sleep disorders

Newswise — In recognition of May as National Sleep Awareness month, the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine’s (ACOEM’s) ongoing awareness campaign to address chronic disease in the workplace is focusing on the impact of sleep disorders on worker health and productivity. Sleep disorders that result in excessive workplace fatigue are not only debilitating but, as in the case of a truck driver falling asleep at the wheel, can also have fatal consequences.

Acute or chronic insomnia is one of the most prevalent sleep disorders. According to a recent study, insomnia affects approximately 23% of all U.S. workers, resulting in 367 million lost work days per year, and the cost to employers is nearly $63.2 billion per year in medical expenses and lost productivity.

In addition, more than 40 million Americans suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), of which 18 million have moderate to severe disease. Associated with profound health risk, including approximately 38,000 deaths annually that relate to cardiovascular problems, the excess medical costs for untreated OSA in the U.S. annually are estimated to be $80 billion with an additional 2.5 to 5 times that in disability and lost productivity.

Sleep disorders may have numerous causes, some of which include obesity, work stress, anxiety, and/or depression. In addition, certain medications and medical conditions can interfere with sleep, as can caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. Changes to a work schedule (shift work) can also disrupt circadian rhythms resulting in sleep disorders. Sleep disorders also become more common with age – changes in health and increased medication use are some of the causes of age-related sleep disorders. And, as the workforce ages, this will become and even greater problem.

While sleep disorders can be treated with medication and behavioral therapy, prevention strategies should be considered as the first line of treatment. “People suffering from sleep disorders such as insomnia can try adoption of good lifestyle habits and proper sleep practices before turning to medications and other remedies,” said Barry Eisenberg, ACOEM executive director. “However, as the effects of sleep disorders – and potential underlying causes – vary from person to person, treatment depends on the condition, and those chronically affected should consult a physician.”

“Comprehensive worksite wellness initiatives should include a sleep disorder management program that consists of screening, diagnosis, treatment, and compliance components. As with most other chronic conditions, wellness programs can help prevent or manage sleep disorders by leveraging the power of prevention – the only sustainable solution to our society’s health crisis,” said Ron Loeppke, MD, MPH, ACOEM President. “This is especially true due to our aging workforce and for companies that employ shift workers or are involved in transportation – an emphasis on wellness and prevention activities that engage workers and their families to be more proactive about their health will allow us as a nation to have the healthiest workforce possible,” said Dr. Loeppke.

To address the impact of sleep disorders in the workplace, ACOEM is making available information and practical resources for employers to learn more about sleep disorders/fatigue prevention programs in the workplace. One such instrument, the Blueprint for Health, provides a free on-line calculator that estimates the overall total health-related costs to employers as well as the impact of specific chronic conditions such as insomnia, COPD, hypertension, and heart disease on absenteeism.

This initiative to prevent and manage sleep disorders is part of ACOEM’s Healthy Workforce Now (HWN) program launched in 2009. The goal of HWN is to build a healthier and safer workforce and integrate workplace health and wellness more effectively with the nation’s overall health reform efforts. Healthy Workforce Now advances such action items as establishing a new “national culture of health in the workplace,” better access to health care services for workers, a reduction in workplace health disparities, improvements aimed at the workers’ compensation system and a stronger national response to environmental health risks.

To learn more about ACOEM’s HWN campaign, or the Blueprint for Health, visit www.acoem.org.

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About ACOEM — The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) represents nearly 4,500 physicians specializing in occupational and environmental medicine. Founded in 1916, ACOEM is the nation’s largest medical society dedicated to promoting the health of workers through preventive medicine, clinical care, disability management, research, and education. For more information, visit www.acoem.org.


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