While employees with poor sleep habits are more likely to see an impact on their work, treatment can make a significant difference to their quality of life, a pilot project involving staff at Desjardins Insurance has found.

At an event in Toronto on Thursday, the company revealed the results of a pilot project involving 1,800 of its own employees in concert with Haleo Preventive Health Solutions Inc. Of those employees contacted, 35 per cent took Haleo’s screening test for sleep issues. For those identified to be at risk, the program offers support to identify treatment and diagnostic options available through their benefits plan as well as video sessions with a therapist. “All of it can be done through your smartphone,” Haleo founder Bradley Smith said during the event.

As for the impacts of the program, the pilot project found 89 per cent of those who completed the treatment saw improvements in their sleep, with significant reductions in the number of people ranked as having severe insomnia. The results also showed a roughly 50 per cent decrease in the number of people experiencing psychological distress.

Read: Getting a good night’s sleep: Easy as z-z-z?

For Josée Dixon, executive vice-president of group and business insurance at Desjardins, there’s a significant gap in the services available to support the 40 per cent of adults who have trouble sleeping. According to Dixon, there’s only one specialized therapist available in Canada to treat every 25,000 people who suffer from a sleep disorder. And with sleep issues having a significant impact on employers through benefits costs and employee productivity, they have good reason to address the issue, she told the audience. Employers see 75 per cent higher health costs from poor sleepers, she noted, adding that rather than getting treatment for the cause of their sleep problems, people tend to focus on the symptoms by undergoing tests, visiting doctors and using medication.

“It’s really a Catch-22, and finally, they go off work,” said Dixon, who cited the significant impact of poor sleep on the prevalence of chronic diseases and low productivity at work.

So what’s an employer to do? They can encourage afternoon naps of 15 to 20 minutes at work, according to Dixon. They can also change their culture around things like checking email after work she said, noting Desjardins is in fact considering measures to stop sending emails at night. But as Smith pointed out, getting to the cause of insomnia sometimes requires cognitive behavioural therapy to deal with the issues. When it comes to the video-based therapy provided through Haleo’s smartphone app, the sessions include techniques for relaxation and stimulus control, Smith noted. And for employers considering making sleep treatment available to their employees, Smith suggested the productivity gains outweigh the costs.

Read: Work stress steals sleep

“Poor sleep is a serious public health issue,” said Dixon, who took issue with the notion that some people can get away with sleeping as little as five hours a night. About three-quarters of Canadians sleep less than seven hours a night, which Dixon suggested is “the minimum essential for most adult Canadians.”

Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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