Sleep Deprivation Is Quietly Draining Revenue From Brands in the Covid-19 Era

Nearly a quarter of employees are tossing and turning all night—and that is expensive

illustration of a small stick figure passed out at a desk in front of a computer
Perhaps unsurprisingly, employees are reporting that they're having trouble sleeping in these dark days.
Malte Mueller/Getty Images

Key insights:

While the final tally is many months away, economists have already estimated that dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic will cost the American economy anywhere from $2 trillion to as much as $5 trillion. Experts base those figures on lost revenues: cars not bought, flights not booked, restaurant meals not eaten.

But while most of the frightening media stories concerning the losses that most businesses are sustaining deal with vanishing sales, there’s another serious drain on company coffers that few are talking about: the cost of lost sleep.

Simply put, when employees don’t get enough sleep, productivity takes a gut punch. And right now, tens of millions of Americans are not sleeping. In fact, nearly a quarter of us (22%) report having trouble sleeping because of concerns over Covid-19, according to a just-released report from sleep education site SleepHelp, which surveyed close to a thousand adults.

The survey also found that women are having a harder time sleeping compared to men (26% vs. 17%), and the age cohort most affected is Gen-X, Americans between 39 and 54 years of age. (Among millennials, 18% admitted they had been sleeping less due to worries about contracting Covid-19.)

And though you might expect that Americans who’ve lost their jobs would be the ones lying awake at night, it turns out that salaried employees still on the payroll are most likely to be staring at the ceiling at 3 a.m. Almost 20% of salary earners said they’re sleeping less because of Covid-19 concerns, versus 13% of hourly workers and just 9% of those who’ve lost their jobs.

As for what these legions of sleepless employees portend for American industry, SleepHelp’s managing editor Logan Foley puts it plainly: “There are no two ways about it: Sleep deprivation, be it insufficient sleep or inconsistent sleep, is a primary cause to productivity loss,” she said. “Research not only backs this up but attributes very real economic loss to sleep issues.”

The ways Covid-19 is costing us a good night’s rest

Lisa Medalie, a behavioral sleep medicine specialist at the University of Chicago, counts at least six reasons why Americans are having a hard time sleeping during the Covid-19 era, ranging from fewer opportunities to exercise to more time spent staring at the blue-spectrum light from screens, which inhibits the body’s production of the sleep hormone melatonin.

But the most obvious culprit is stress.

“Given the uncertainty alongside the pandemic—’When will this end? How will this impact my health, finances and well-being?’—stress and worry have exponentially increased,” Medalie said. “Even the calmest humans feel unsettled. With elevated stress and worry comes mind racing and anxiety symptoms, which can in turn keep people awake during their dedicated sleep hours.”

What exactly are we all stressed about? According to a poll released Tuesday by Engine Insights, 92% of respondents are worried about the national economy; 86% are fretting about a loved one getting sick; 81% are concerned that their children’s educations are suffering; 71% are concerned about their personal finances; and 62% are worried about their own mental state.

Amber Clayton, Knowledge Center director for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), points to another way that the pandemic is costing Americans a good night’s sleep: the fact that about 60% of us are working from home right now.

“We have a tendency to work longer than we normally would, and we don’t shut down because work is home,” Clayton said. “So, what happens is people start to go to bed later and wake up later. For those who never worked from home, this is not something they’ve done on a full-time basis, so there’s some disruption.”

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