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More companies are investing in sleep assistance programs to help increase productivity and reduce healthcare costs. Getty Images
  • A survey indicates that more than half of U.S. companies plan to have sleep programs for employees by the end of next year.
  • A RAND study reported that lack of sleep costs the U.S. economy $411 billion a year.
  • Experts say companies can increase productivity and reduce healthcare costs by implementing sleep wellness programs.

You’re on your second cup of coffee but still yawning.

Now you’re struggling to stay awake and alert.

There’s a pile of unfinished projects on your desk, so you soldier on. But this is starting to be your story every morning.

Chances are your employer may offer testing to see if you have a medical condition such as sleep apnea. Or your company might even offer sleep coaching.

Turns out more employers are stepping up to offer you help to get more Zzz’s.

According to a 2019 survey by Willis Tower Watson, 27 percent of the 610 employers questioned already offer apps to support sleep and relaxation. By 2021, more than half say they will implement sleep programs.

The most obvious benefit for companies is increased productivity.

A recent RAND report concluded that lack of sleep is costing the U.S. economy up to $411 billion a year.

The researchers found the productivity losses include both absenteeism and “presenteeism,” where employees are at work but working at a suboptimal level.

Another reason? Experts say companies are looking for ways to cut back on healthcare spending.

“Arresting the growth of healthcare costs is certainly something many of our clients are interested in” said Chad Brooker, JD, an associate principal at Avalere Health, a healthcare consulting firm. “A family health plan is predicted this year to cost more than $20,000.”

He added, “Health and wellness programs are becoming increasingly popular now because there is a lot of research around how they can lower spending down the road.”

Experts say long-term sleep deprivation can lead to a host of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, obesity, and a weakened immune system.

“Most employers tend to be self-insured. They are the ones bearing the costs. So it behooves them to engage in these strategies. They can take small steps that hopefully help people not have heart attacks or strokes, or develop significantly worse comorbidities,” Brooker told Healthline.

Last fall Beddr, a sleep health technology company based in California, launched a sleep program for employers to help identify a worker’s chronic sleep issues.

The company’s top executive says for some businesses the concern is worker safety.

“There’s a whole range of companies in industries [where] the consequence of an employee with poor sleep health could be a serious accident and the liability that comes along with that” Mike Kisch, MBA, founder and CEO of Beddr, told Healthline.

Kisch says his company’s first client is a transportation company called OmniTRAX.

Here’s how their program works:

Beddr has a device called a sleep tuner that is placed on your forehead. While you sleep, its sensors collect data on your blood oxygen levels, your heart rate, your sleep position, and whether you stop breathing at intervals. All of this is done in the privacy of your own home.

The results will determine which team of experts you may be referred to.

If a worker has an underlying medical condition such as sleep apnea, they are referred to a sleep physician for further diagnosis and treatment.

If the results show the worker has sleep hygiene issues, they are referred to sleep coaches.

“These are behavioral experts who provide sleep coaching services. They use a variety of techniques to help people get to the root causes of their lack of sleep so they can make positive changes,” Kisch said.

The program costs the employer about $300 per worker for a 4-week run. There is a small monthly fee if further coaching is needed.

“I think the most promising thing we’ve seen is that these are people who ordinarily would not take action,” Kisch added.

“But 90 percent of people who have gone through the program have completed it.”

Health insurer Aetna was one of the early adopters of sleep-related programs.

In 2016, the company offered its workers bonuses of up to $300 per year if they consistently got at least 7 hours of sleep a night. The employees synched their Fitbits to the company’s wellness platform to have their sleep patterns tracked.

Healthline reached out to Aetna to find out if the program worked, but the company’s representatives didn’t respond.

There’s a broad question about the impact that wellness perks might have and the rewards when it comes to their return on investment.

A study published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association raised doubts.

Harvard researchers studied more than 30,000 warehouse workers at BJ’s Wholesale Club for 18 months.

The wellness program didn’t focus on sleep behaviors. But researchers found that in the end there was no significant reduction in healthcare spending.