Bad sleep habits will cost the U.S. $434 billion in 2020

Our always-on culture has us working harder, doing more, and sleeping less. While the health ailments of sleep deprivation are well known, a study by Rand Europe shows that it is costing the economy as well, with the U.S. estimated to lose up to $434 billion in 2020.


If you want to get ahead in life, then you’ll need to work hard, be disciplined, and sacrifice sleep. If you’re asleep, you’re not working, and if you don’t work constantly, you can never manage a successful company or create the art that will make you famous. It’s not just your success on the line, either. Your country’s economy is counting on you to be a productive member of society. Besides, there will be plenty of time to sleep when you’re dead.

If you’re thinking these old saws sound dull, you’re right, and the data agree with you. Insufficient sleep has been linked to a slew of health issues, such as obesity, hypertension, and heart disease. It can also cause mood disorders and is a main contributor to poor work-life balance.

Workers pay and pay often for their poor sleep habits, but since the best-known ailments of sleep deprivation are personal in nature, employers and society do little to properly incentivize good sleep hygiene. But according to a study by Rand Europe, sleep-deprived Americans will cost the United States economy up to $434 billion by 2020, and the tab gets larger after that.

Sleep pays for itself

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Based on survey data from 62,000 people, Rand Europe created a bespoke macroeconomic model that stimulated the interactions of economic agents (workers, companies, governments, etc.). They ran the model through three scenarios, and the results for 2016, the year of the study’s release, were staggering.

The United States proved the biggest economic loser, with losses between $281 and $411 billion. Japan, Germany, Canada, and the United Kingdom were also modeled, and researchers estimated that all five countries lose “up to $680 billion dollars of economic output every year.”

That’s the bad news. The worst news is that these economic losses increase slightly in magnitude over time, meaning we forfeit more every year we don’t devise solutions for our societal sleep deprivation. In 2020, the U.S. is estimated to lose between $299 and $434 billion. By 2030, the amount will be between $330 and $468 billion.

Invested properly, these amounts could easily fund tuition-free public colleges and provide health care coverage for uninsured families, with change to spare (or, you know, it could develop one-third of an F-35 fighter jet).

Productive postmortem

Commuters sleep in a metro car in Moscow on May 23, 2018. (Photo by Mladen ANTONOV / AFP)

We lose more year after year because of how insufficient sleep drains productivity from the labor supply — namely, through lower productivity levels, negatively affected skill development, and higher mortality risks.

The study found that less sleep increased absenteeism (due to illness) and presenteeism (that is, being physically at work but mentally checked out). Workers who slept less than six hours a day averaged a 2.4 percentage point loss of productivity compared to healthy sleepers. That may not seem like much, but it adds up to 6 working days lost per year per sleep-deprived worker.

Expand that number across the U.S., and the country loses the equivalent of 1.23 million working days a year. Days that, once lost, are gone.

Insufficient sleep also drains talent from the labor supply by hindering the skill development of school children, preventing them from properly acquiring the skills necessary to grow their productivity once a part of the workforce.

Finally, the study looked at the link between sleep deprivation and death. Poor sleepers have a 13 percent higher mortality risk from all causes of death, including, but not limited to, health-related issues and accidents caused by drowsiness. The CDC cites drowsy driving as responsible for 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries, and 800 deaths in 2013 alone.

 

Workers who die particularly impact economic losses, as their removal from the labor supply doesn’t just affect the year they died. It also removes all their future productivity, as well as the productivity of potential future children.

Even if there is time to sleep when you’re dead, there isn’t time to do much else.

Make sleep a priority, not a luxury

PATRIK STOLLARZ/AFP/Getty Images

Good sleep hygiene improves your health and work-life balance, so it is to your benefit, not just the benefit of your employer or the country’s economy, that you sleep and sleep well.

Here are some tips to help you get a good night’s rest:

  • Rest up. The National Sleep Foundation recommends working-aged adults (26–64 years old) get between seven and nine hours of sleep a night. Less or more sleep may be appropriate depending on personal needs. Women, for example, need more sleep than men on average.
  • Figure out your circadian rhythm. Try to go to bed and wake up at times that feel natural to you (but still net you the hours you need). Once you find that rhythm, be consistent. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Don’t acquire sleep debt. Your weekend catch-up sessions will credit you a bit, but it’s usually not enough. Creating a consistent sleep schedule is the only way to stay in the black.
  • Don’t consume nicotine, alcohol, caffeine, or sugary drinks before bed. Alcohol may help you fall asleep faster, but it reduces rapid-eye movement, curbing the quality of your sleep.
  • Silence is golden. Your brain needs silence to recover from the day. Schedule your phone to be silent during your sleep hours, and try to fix any household intermittent noises that you can (looking at you, leaky faucet).
  • Be in balance. Your room should be neither too warm nor too cold. Your body has to work to maintain a regular temperature in extreme conditions, making it difficult to rest.5
  • Darkness, my old friend. Night lighting may not be very bright, but it is significantly more so than the natural light of the moon and stars. Remove LEDs from your room and block out street lighting to help regulate your sleep-wake cycle.
  • No screen time before bed. The blue light of electronic screens prevents your pineal gland from releasing melatonin. Melatonin helps reduce alertness and mellow you out. Without it, your brain stays alert and awake.
  • Stop the snooze cycle. Using a snooze button wrecks your pre-waking REM and blunts your morning brain.8 If you’re waking up tired, you need to adjust to get more sleep.
  • Stay healthy. Exercise will also help you sleep by burning off excess energy earlier in the day.

Of course, our jobs will often add stressors that put mental relaxation out of our control. Commutes, financial concerns, unrealistic deadlines, irregular hours, and our always-on work culture are all cited by the authors of the Rand Europe study as sleep deterring qualities of the modern work environment.

As such, it may be worth having a talk with your manager about how to properly address deficiencies that deprive employees of sleep. Remember, it’s not just about your health, but your ability to perform productively for your employer. As the study’s authors note, “Solving the problem of insufficient sleep represents a potential ‘win-win’ situation for individuals, employers, and the wider society.”

America’s education system is centuries old. Can we build something better?

The Lumina Foundation lays out steps for increasing access to quality post-secondary education credentials.

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  • Elizabeth Garlow explains the Lumina Foundation's strategy to create a post-secondary education system that works for all students. This includes credential recognition, affordability, a more competency-based system, and quality assurance.
  • Systemic historic factors have contributed to inequality in the education system. Lumina aims to close those gaps in educational attainment.
  • In 2019, Lumina Foundation and Big Think teamed up to create the Lumina Prize, a search to find the most innovative and scalable ideas in post-secondary education. You can see the winners of the Lumina Prize here – congratulations to PeerForward and Greater Commons!

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What was it like to live in a Japanese concentration camp?

During World War II, the U.S. incarcerated over 100,000 Japanese Americans in concentration camps throughout the West.

Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Now that the issue of concentration camps in the U.S. has once again reared its head, it can be beneficial to recall the last time such camps were employed in the U.S.
  • After Pearl Harbor, the U.S. incarcerated over 100,000 Japanese Americans in camps, ostensibly for national security purposes.
  • In truth, the incarceration was primarily motivated by racism. What was life like in the U.S.'s concentration camps?

On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized and directed military commanders "to prescribe military areas … from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion." Under the authority of this executive order, roughly 112,000 men, women, and children of Japanese descent — nearly two-thirds of which were American citizens — were detained in concentration camps.

How did the camps get their start?

With the benefit of a nearly 80-year perspective, it's clear that the internment of Japanese Americans was racially motivated. In response to Japan's growing military power in the buildup to World War II, President Roosevelt commissioned two reports to determine whether it would be necessary to intern Japanese Americans should conflict break out between Japan and the U.S. Neither's conclusions supported the plan, with one even going so far as to "certify a remarkable, even extraordinary degree of loyalty among this generally suspect ethnic group." But of course, the Pearl Harbor attacks proved to be far more persuasive than these reports.

Pearl Harbor turned simmering resentment against the Japanese to a full boil, putting pressure on the Roosevelt administration to intern Japanese Americans. Lieutenant General John DeWitt, who would become the administrator of the internment program, testified to Congress

"I don't want any of them here. They are a dangerous element. There is no way to determine their loyalty... It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen, he is still a Japanese. American citizenship does not necessarily determine loyalty... But we must worry about the Japanese all the time until he is wiped off the map."

DeWitt's position was backed up by a number of pre-existing anti-immigrant groups based out of the West Coast, such as the Joint Immigration Committee and the Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West. For many, the war simply served as an excuse to get rid of Japanese Americans. In an interview with the Saturday Evening Post, Austin Anson, the managing secretary of the Salinas Vegetable Grower-Shipper Administration, said:

"We're charged with wanting to get rid of the Japs for selfish reasons. We do. It's a question of whether the White man lives on the Pacific Coast or the brown men. ... If all the Japs were removed tomorrow, we'd never miss them in two weeks because the White farmers can take over and produce everything the Jap grows. And we do not want them back when the war ends, either."

Ironically for Anson, the mass deportation of Japanese Americans under Executive Order 9066 meant there was a significant shortage of agricultural labor. Many Caucasians left to fight the war, so the U.S. signed an agreement with Mexico to permit the immigration of several million Mexicans agricultural workers under the so-called bracero program.

Life in the camps

Japanese American concentration camp

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Circa 1943: Aerial view of a Japanese American relocation center in Amache, Colorado, during World War II. Each family was provided with a space 20 by 25 ft. The barracks were set in blocks and each block was provided with a community bath house and mess hall.

For the most part, Japanese Americans remained stoic in the face of their incarceration. The phrase shikata ga nai was frequently invoked — the phrase roughly translates to "it cannot be helped," which, for many, represents the perceived attitude of the Japanese people to withstand suffering that's out of their control.

Initially, most Japanese Americans were sent to temporary assembly centers, typically located at fairgrounds or racetracks. These were hastily constructed barracks, where prisoners were often packed into tight quarters and made to use toilets that were little more than pits in the ground. From here, they were relocated to more permanent camps — replete with barbed wire and armed guards — in remote, isolated places across the seven states of California, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, and Arkansas.

Many of these camps, also known as War Relocation Centers, were little better than the temporary assembly centers. One report described the buildings as "tar paper-covered barracks of simple frame construction without plumbing or cooking facilities of any kind." Again, overcrowding was common.

As a result, disease became a major concern, including dysentery, malaria, and tuberculosis. This was problematic due to the chronic shortage of medical professionals and supplies, an issue that was not helped by the War Relocation Authority's decision to cap Japanese American medical professional's pay at $20 a month (about $315 in 2019 dollars), while Caucasian workers had no such restriction. As a comparison, Caucasian nurses earned $150 ($2,361) a month in one camp.

The U.S. government also administered loyalty questionnaires to incarcerated Japanese Americans with the ultimate goal of seeing whether they could be used as soldiers and to segregate "loyal" citizens from "disloyal" ones. The questionnaires often asked whether they would be willing to join the military and if they would completely renounce their loyalty to Japan. Due to fears of being drafted, general confusion, and justified anger at the U.S. government, thousands of Japanese Americans "failed" the loyalty questionnaire and were sent to the concentration camp at Tule Lake. When Roosevelt later signed a bill that would permit Japanese Americans to renounce their citizenship, 98 percent of the 5,589 who did were located at Tule Lake. Some apologists cite this an example of genuine disloyalty towards the U.S., but this argument clearly ignores the gross violation of Japanese Americans' rights. Later, it became clear that many of these renunciations had been made under duress, and nearly all of those who had renounced their citizenship sought to gain it back.

Since many children lived in the camps, they came equipped with schools. Of course, these schools weren't ideal — student-teacher ratios reached as high as 48:1, and supplies were limited. The irony of learning about American history and ideals was not lost on the students, one of whom wrote in an essay --

"They, the first generation [of Japanese immigrants], without the least knowledge of the English language nor the new surroundings, came to this land with the American pioneering spirit of resettling. ...Though undergoing many hardships, they did reach their goal only to be resettled by the order of evacuation under the emergency for our protection and public security."

Potentially the best part of life in the camps — and the best way for determined prisoners to demonstrate their fundamental American-ness — was playing baseball. One camp even featured nearly 100 baseball teams. Former prisoner Herb Kurima recalled the importance of baseball in their lives in an interview with Christian Science Monitor. "I wanted our fathers, who worked so hard, to have a chance to see a ball game," he said. "Over half the camp used to come out to watch. It was the only enjoyment in the camps."

The aftermath

When the camps finally closed in 1945, the lives of the incarcerated Japanese Americans had been totally upended. Some were repatriated to Japan, while others settled in whichever part of the country they had been arbitrarily placed in. Those who wished to return to the West Coast were given $25 and a train ticket, but few had anything to return to. Many had sold their property to predatory buyers prior to being incarcerated, while theft had wiped out whatever else they had left behind. Many, many years later, the 1988 Civil Liberties Act mandated that each surviving victim be paid $20,000, though that seems like a small fine to pay for irrevocably changing the courses of more than 100,000 lives.