March 8, 2007

A new study advises insomniacs to get early treatment for their sleep disorder to save them and their employers money in the long run. The study, which was published in the March 1 issue of the journal SLEEP, found that failure to treat insomnia is much more costly than treating it, even when using the most expensive drug treatments.

The study, conducted by Ronald J. Ozminkowski, PhD, director of health and productivity research at Thomson Medstat in Ann Arbor, Mich, and James K. Walsh, PhD, director of the Sleep Medicine and Research Center in Chesterfield, Mo, addresses the cost of untreated insomnia for more than 210,000 patients.

The authors discovered that, in contrast to many other disorders, insomnia is relatively inexpensive to treat. Even the most expensive medications cost less than $200 per year for the typical insomnia patient, noted the authors, adding that the major costs of insomnia occur before diagnosis is made and before treatment begins.

In comparison, the authors found that untreated insomnia led to $924 to $1,143 more in medical expenditures, depending on the patient’s age, for just the 6 months before treatment began.

In the United States, employers pay for about 80% of all health expenditures for the employees and dependents covered in their health plans. Employers also pay for all of the lost absenteeism via lower worker productivity. For a typical employee with untreated insomnia, these costs would be about $1,059 for just the 6 months prior to treatment, the authors said.

Insomnia leads to a substantial increase in health care expenditures and absenteeism from work. About 10% of the adults in the United States have chronic insomnia, so the cost of failure to treat is huge for the US population.

“Our study suggests that it costs far less to treat insomnia than to ignore it,” said Ozminkowski, the study’s lead author. “Untreated insomnia affects individuals’ health, quality of life, and job performance—and increases their use of health care services substantially.”

“Approximately 25 to 30 million Americans have chronic insomnia, so this issue has huge implications for employers, health plans, government insurance programs and individuals,” said Walsh, co-author of the study.