Embarking on a workplace chronic illness or mental-health strategy is incomplete without factoring in sleep, said Bradley Smith, chief executive officer of Haleo Clinic, during Benefits Canada’s 2021 Tech Insights conference in January.

“Sleep has been overlooked and, in our view, undervalued for quite a long time, yet good sleep is essential for coping [with] and recovering from disability. If we slept enough, business would be more productive, global economies would be healthier and the roads would be safer. . . . Sleep very much is our best insurance policy.”

Haleo wants to help employees get better sleep with its iOS and Android sleep therapy app. The app contains several tools, including chat and video conferencing with trained therapists, a sleep diary and questionnaires and content to read between therapy sessions. The course is delivered over five to eight weeks.

“Essentially, our solution is a hybrid of professional care, along with a platform that delivers content and analytics and communication tools with professionals,” Smith said.

According to a 2011 study, more than 40 per cent of Canadian adults are affected by insomnia. The link between mental health and sleep is particularly profound: two out of three people living with mental illnesses are affected by insomnia symptoms. The coronavirus pandemic has worsened the situation, with a November 2020 academic study reporting a 36 per cent increase in these symptoms since March 2020.

The toll of insomnia on the workplace can be significant, Smith said. Insomnia symptoms are behind 10 per cent of workplace accidents and these accidents make up a quarter of the costs associated with insomnia. Employees dealing with sleep issues are absent from work about ten extra days per year than those without such challenges and people who sleep poorly are two-and-a-half times as likely to take disability leave. According to a 2019 Deloitte paper, workplace productivity losses caused by poor sleep are estimated to cost $16 billion annually.

“While it’s the employee that really suffers the physical and mental-health consequences of poor sleep, it’s the employer who pays the bulk of the price,” he said.

Implementing a sleep and mental-health solution can pay dividends for employers, said Julien Heon, vice-president of growth and customer success at Haleo. He highlighted the company’s work with a major Canadian financial institution with more than 20,000 employees: a month after the company made Haleo’s app available in July 2020, hundreds of employees were using the virtual clinic; by the six-month mark, more than one-quarter of employees had used the clinic and more than five per cent had completed clinical intervention with a sleep therapist. Users reported a satisfaction rate of 93 per cent and the client found their return on investment to be close to 18 times what they invested.

In addition to its sleep therapy course, Haleo’s promotional toolkit for employers includes clinically validated sleep health assessments for employees to undertake, pre-clinic consultations with a sleep expert, sleep expert webinars and other educational content, which Smith said have high engagement with employees. In small and large organizations alike, roughly one-quarter of employees use the screener tool, download the app or participate in a webinar and five to 10 per cent of all employees complete the clinical intervention.

“We’re finding that clients are really impacted on a personal level,” Smith said. “Not only is their sleep better, but they’re seeing a lot of other improvements in their life.”