Wake up!

Insomnia afflicts more than one-third of Americans. The statistic is not lost on Dr. Matt McHugh, a family physician at Worthington Industries Family Medical and Wellness Center. Each month, nearly 15 employees at the company visit him complaining of insomnia. Another three to four have sleep apnea, or repeated pauses in breathing during sleep.

“We have a quarterly newsletter and we talk to people one on one,” McHugh says of how the company tries to make its employees aware of the dangers of sleep disorders. The company also addresses the issue at health fairs and in other wellness bulletins.

“I think our fear here is we have people working around machinery. Or people who are in important positions and come to work irritable, come to work moody, or that, especially if they are a supervisor, have people under them that they are in charge of,” says the center’s medical director, Dr. James F. Mason. “It can get into causing some poor supervisor-worker relationships.”

Even more dangerous is the fact that sleep disorders can result in serious health problems, says Dr. Robert Clark, medical director at the Regional Sleep Disorders Center at Columbus Community Hospital, where Worthington Industries’ physicians often refer patients with such diagnoses.

“Over 40 million people in the United States have chronic sleep disorders,” says Clark. In severe cases, sleep apnea has been associated with high blood pressure, heart problems, convulsions and even death.

He lists the following statistics:

  • An estimated 50 percent of night shift workers fall asleep on the job at least weekly, and 75 percent fight sleepiness each night shift.
  • An estimated $189.5 billion in annual losses in the United States result from workplace sleepiness that causes motor vehicle accidents, workplace accidents and lost productivity.
  • The United States has the longest work hours and the least vacation time of any country.

Businesses, especially those which have shift workers, can take steps to improve the situation, such as changing the lighting in the work area, altering shifts or allowing employees to take naps during the work day.

Clark is so adamant about increasing awareness of the problem that he’s started a program called AlertWorkzz to help local businesses.

He will provide, for free, screening questionnaires for employees to ascertain their risk of having a problem; presentations at companies, including a slide show or literature; and training for company health personnel to learn how to identify sleep disorders and counsel those patients. He and representatives of his clinic also are available for paid consultations.

“Even if business management doesn’t want to do it for the humanitarian aspect,” Clark says of helping employees with sleep disorders, “they should consider the lost productivity, liability and increased health care costs that result.”

For more information, go to www.thesleepsite.com or call the Regional Sleep Disorders Center at (614) 443-7800.