watching the alarm clock

A new report indicates the U.S. has a big problem with sleep deprivation—a problem that has “a significant effect” on the American economy.

Why Sleep Matters—The Economic Costs of Insufficient Sleep, released Nov. 29 by RAND Corporation, quantifies the economic losses due to sleep deprivation among workers in five different countries: the U.S., U.K., Canada, Germany and Japan, according to a press release.

The U.S. topped the list with the most workdays lost to bad sleep, and the biggest financial loss—up to $411 billion; it was followed by Japan, then Germany, the U.K. and Canada.

We all know what a restful night’s sleep feels like compared with one that is restless; sleep supports physical, emotional and mental functioning. Studies have indicated that sleep disturbances are associated with obesity, depression, cardiovascular risk factors and neurological disorders.

Among the RAND report’s findings:

  • Sleep deprivation increases the risk of mortality by 13 percent and leads to the U.S. losing around 1.2 million working days a year.
  • Higher risk of mortality and lower productivity levels caused by bad sleep have a significant effect on a nation’s economy.
  • Increasing nightly sleep from under six hours to between six and seven hours could add $226.4 billion to the U.S. economy.


massage for sleep

Massage for Sleep?

The questions for massage therapists—and clients—are, can massage therapy help people get a better night’s sleep? And can massage therapy increase a person’s ability to fall—and stay—asleep, on a regular basis?

So far, research indicates the potential for massage therapy to benefit sleep, a benefit especially related to massage therapy’s ability to reduce stress and effect the relaxation response—outcomes that have been studied more than massage and sleep have been.

The effect of stress on sleep has been investigated, with researchers having looked at insomnia impacted by post-traumatic stress disorder, for example.

And an earlier study by RAND, a nonprofit that conducts research and analysis, Chronic Stress is Prospectively Associated with Sleep in Midlife Women, released in October 2015, noted, “Chronic stress is prospectively associated with sleep disturbance in midlife women, even after adjusting for acute stressors at the time of the sleep study and other factors known to disrupt sleep. These results are consistent with current models of stress that emphasize the cumulative effect of stressors on health over time.”

In his article, “How Soft Tissue Manipulation May Contribute to A Good Night’s Sleep,” (MASSAGE Magazine, August 2015), Roman Torgovitsky, Ph.D., wrote, “Many of the relaxation effects of massage therapy are likely to be mediated by the vagus nerve, according to Tiffany Field, Ph.D., director of the Touch Research Institute (TRI), at the University of Miami School of Medicine in Miami, Florida.”

Torgovitsky recounted that Field had told him, “‘The vagus nerve is a major parasympathetic nerve that sends efferent signals of relaxation to most vital organs … Stimulating pressure receptors in various parts of the body sends signals to the vagus nerve in the brain, [and] activation of the vagus nerve lowers heart rate, reduces blood pressure, increases gastric motility and relaxes muscles of the face and voice.’

“Numerous studies conducted by Field and colleagues show that massage reduces levels of stress hormones such as cortisol,” Torgovitsky continued. “TRI has not conducted research specifically on massage and sleep; however, cortisol can increase arousal and wakefulness, and interfere with deep sleep.”


Studies on Massage for Sleep

Some research has looked at the effect of massage therapy and related complementary health care practices on sleep quality, but primarily for specialized populations, rather than the general population.

Such studies include:


alarm clock

Sleep-Related Help

The new RAND report does not recommend massage for sleep improvement; it suggests that individuals wake up at a set time consistently; limit the use of computers and smartphones before bedtime; and exercise during the day. It also says employers could offer nap spaces to employees, and that public authorities could “support health professionals in providing sleep-related help.”

The report is in part based on VitalityHealth’s Britain’s Healthiest Workplace study, in which RAND Europe and the University of Cambridge conducted analysis and research support. The report Why Sleep Matters—The Economic Costs of Insufficient Sleep involves independent research and analysis from RAND Europe.


Karen MenehanAbout the Author

Karen Menehan is MASSAGE Magazine’s editor in chief. Her recent articles for include “New Massage Continuing Education Plan Met with Opposition” and “Massage Therapy for Military Veterans.”