Common sleep disorder contributes to work disability and need to modify work duties

Research Activities, April 2010, No. 356

As a common sleep disorder, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can cause daytime fatigue and the inability to think clearly. Those who suffer from it may also experience excessive daytime somnolence (sleepiness, EDS), which can interfere with work activities. Individuals with both OSA and EDS are at high risk for work disability and modification of their work duties, concludes a new study. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, studied 183 patients who were referred to the university's Sleep Disorders Center. In addition to undergoing an overnight sleep study (polysomnography), participants also filled out a survey. They were asked about any work-related disability due to their sleep problems, the type of work they did, and reported levels of EDS.

More than half of the patients (55 percent) had OSA. Out of 83 with OSA, 77 percent reported experiencing recent work disability. The presence of both OSA and EDS was found to be associated with 13 times greater risk of recent work disability and nearly 4 times greater risk of longer-term work duty modification. Even patients with only OSA had nearly three times greater risk for any recent work disability compared with those without OSA.

The greater risk of work duty modification was found for jobs that involved shift work with periodic changes in sleep schedules and jobs that involved carrying out precise measurements, hand movements, and calculations. Recent work disability was associated with work-related activities such as reading printed text or display screens. Work activities considered more physical in nature, such as handling heated materials or food, were associated with less risk of work disability. The researchers hope their findings will highlight the importance of employers encouraging their workers to be screened for OSA when signs of decreased productivity and EDS are present. The study was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS17664).

See "Obstructive sleep apnea: A risk factor for work disability," by Theodore A. Omachi, M.D., M.B.A., David M. Claman, M.D., Paul D. Blanc, M.D., M.S.P.H., and Mark D. Eisner, M.D., M.P.H., in Sleep 32(6), pp. 791-798, 2009.

Current as of April 2010
Internet Citation: Common sleep disorder contributes to work disability and need to modify work duties: Research Activities, April 2010, No. 356. April 2010. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.