Wellness interventions needed for sleep-deprived employees

Sleep was added as a new topic to Healthy People 2020, the federal government’s third-generation treatise on improving the health of all Americans. Why? As a society, we simply don’t get enough of it.

About a quarter of the adult population reports insufficient sleep or rest at least 15 out of every 30 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In its 2011 Sleep in America® poll, the National Sleep Foundation found 43 percent of Americans between the ages of 13 and 64 rarely or never get a good night’s sleep on weeknights; 60 percent say they experience a sleep problem every night or almost every night.

In addition to treating sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), restless leg syndrome and insomnia, experts say there is a need for employers and medical professionals to address lifestyle factors that contribute to the erosion of much-needed rest time in the workforce.

Sleep and Wellness Programs

Massachusetts-based Sleep HealthCenters®, which operates a national network of centers and clinician-partners in sleep medicine, is among organizations working with employers to incorporate sleep health interventions in workplace wellness programs.

For example, one of its clients, Gordon Trucking, Inc., the 22nd largest truckload carrier in North America, has adopted a comprehensive national obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) education, screening and treatment program designed to improve the overall health of its commercial drivers.

Some elements of the program are cutting-edge. For example, to monitor use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) for the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea among its drivers, Gordon Trucking uses a proprietary web-based system.

“Gordon Trucking has been ahead of the curve, but the trucking industry and other types of employers, in general, are beginning to move in this direction,” said Paul Valentine, president and CEO of Sleep HealthCenters.

In another venture, Sleep HealthCenters has partnered with a national occupational health organization to integrate sleep disorder evaluation, testing and treatment coordination with Department of Transportation-compliant physicals and drug screens.

“For trucking companies, it can be difficult to implement a program for employees who live in different places, are constantly moving around the country, have different primary care physicians and maybe even different health insurance coverage,” said Lawrence Epstein, M.D., chief medical officer at Sleep HealthCenters.

While the savings achieved through effective treatment and care management are well documented, testing and treatment costs remain a concern for employers and health plan sponsors. In response, Sleep HealthCenters offers utilization (“sleep benefit”) management services to help contain costs while improving clinical outcomes.

Education and Prevention

Philbert Chen, M.D., who practices occupational and environmental medicine with the Carle Physician Group in central Illinois, suggests occupational medicine practitioners routinely ask all patients about their sleep habits.

“In the realm of health promotion, prevention and productivity management, we know that obesity and corresponding poor sleep habits drive up health care costs,” said Dr. Chen, who refers patients in need of further evaluation to Carle’s sleep lab and sleep medicine specialists.

Last year, another Illinois health care organization, MercyWorks Occupational Health Network and Immediate Care Centers in Chicago, and its affiliated Mercy Sleep Disorder Center, jointly sponsored an educational program for employers in conjunction with Sleep Apnea Awareness Week, Oct. 1-7, an annual campaign supported by the American Sleep Association.

MercyWorks and the Mercy Sleep Disorder Center also provide sleep-related education at workplace health fairs, where they collaborate on the use of a simple screening questionnaire that can be quickly completed by visitors and reviewed by a sleep technician. Depending on the results, the technician may offer the respondent a sleep center screening appointment on the spot.

At Mercy, every patient who undergoes a sleep study receives a sleep hygiene booklet with guidance for getting a good night’s rest. Those who receive treatment are carefully monitored for compliance. Patients who follow the treatment regimen, lose weight, exercise more regularly, lower their blood pressure and adopt better sleep habits often report dramatic improvements in their health, energy level and ability to concentrate.

“Employers are looking at total workforce wellness,” said Mark Jones, MercyWorks’ administrative director. “If we can make services attractive from a price point perspective, we are going to be able to create a healthier workforce, which will translate into fewer injuries on the job, increased productivity and a more efficient workforce. Reaching out to clients or companies to provide education is the first step.”

UL gives workforce health and safety professionals more of the tools they need to proactively address risks, reduce costs and keep people safe, healthy and on the job.