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How employers can proactively help employees overcome stress and insomnia caused by the pandemic

November 24, 2020
Kristen Valdes
By Kristen Valdes

Nodding off at work, irritability, lack of focus, and poor performance: At one time or another every employee— and employer— has experienced these behaviors.

However, health experts are concerned because these symptoms are becoming more common. The increase of stress and worry caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is negatively impacting employee health and performance. Experts are calling the condition coronasomnia.

“We hear a great deal about the importance of exercising and good diet, but sleep is the third pillar of sustainable health,” Charles M. Morin, director of the Sleep Research Center at Université Laval in Quebec, told The Washington Post. Morin is leading a 15-country project to measure the pandemic’s effect on sleep. “The impact of insomnia on quality of life is enormous.”

Lack of sleep was already a serious public health issue before the pandemic hit. According to Johns Hopkins, about 1 in 3 adults dealt with acute insomnia (sleeplessness lasting a few days) and 1 in 10 adults had chronic insomnia (ongoing sleeping difficulty). Dr. Rachel Salas, associate professor of John Hopkins University, took this to a step further stating “80% of the patients with obstructive sleep apnea are undiagnosed.”

The length of this pandemic has health experts concerned about a dramatic rise in chronic insomnia. According to the Washington Post, prescriptions for sleep medications jumped 15 percent between mid-February and mid-March in the United States, and the number of patients complaining of insomnia has risen 20 to 30 percent at the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center.

Chronic insomnia can lead to low energy, lack of focus, irritability, and depression, all of which can impair employee efficiency. Regularly getting less than six hours of sleep also increases the risk of obesity, stroke, diabetes, and coronary artery disease (CAD). Not only do these conditions negatively impact your employee’s quality of life, but they can also drive up medication intake and insurance costs across the board.

Another concern of insomnia is that many people self-diagnose, which means they treat only the symptoms instead of addressing their cause. Typically, this approach is ineffective, and many “home” remedies, such as grabbing some shuteye during the day, slamming coffee to stay awake, or having a glass of wine at night, can make sleep issues worse.

However, catching these diagnoses early and motivating someone to address stress and its accompanying issues, such as insomnia (and coronasomnia), can be difficult. Interestingly, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), one of the more effective areas to motivate someone to seek care for medical issues is the workplace. The reasons given by the organization include that employers can use aggerated data to track progress and measure the effects, clear communication structures are already in place, and employers can offer incentives to reinforce healthy behaviors. The CDC also states that workplace programs are most effective when they are comprehensive, combining both mental and physical health interventions.

Sometimes, someone knows they feel bad – for example, due to lack of sleep – but they aren’t aware their condition merits professional care, or they can't get to the provider when they need one. That’s where a precision digital health platform can help. Employers must have their solution providers empower users to see, understand and track their health data.

About the author: Kristen Valdes is CEO and founder of b.well Connected Health. She is intent on transforming the way healthcare is delivered and accessed through b.well. Throughout her career, Kristen has worked on all aspects of the insurance system, including a three year tenure as VP of Federal Claims and XLHealth at United Healthcare. She previously led the management team at XL Health and oversaw its integration to UHC.

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