Right now, more than a third of Americans are feeling anxious and losing sleep as a result, according to the most recent Marketplace-Edison Research Poll. m-gucci/iStock via Getty Images
Economic Anxiety Index®

The cost of sleep deprivation

Erika Beras Nov 23, 2020
Heard on:
Right now, more than a third of Americans are feeling anxious and losing sleep as a result, according to the most recent Marketplace-Edison Research Poll. m-gucci/iStock via Getty Images

According to data from the most recent Marketplace-Edison Research Poll, this fall more Americans are losing sleep over their financial situation.

It’s been years since Holly Niehoff has easily gone to sleep, for example. The 47-year-old lives in Morgan County, Kentucky. Every night, she lays down and has a lot running through her mind, she said.

That includes her husband, who is on disability, and her responsibilities at her job in risk management at Morehead State University. Niehoff said the pandemic has made it even harder for her to sleep.

“Trying to juggle finances for my household on my salary alone for a while, and also trying to keep my kids in school,” she said.

So sometimes it takes an hour, sometimes more, for Niehoff to fall asleep, and she doesn’t always feel rested in the morning

“I do feel kind of tired sometimes throughout the day and just kind of worn out with everything,” Niehoff said.

Sleep is often affected by social and economic circumstances. Pandemic stresses are making that clear.

“If you are anxious or worried about something, you can’t fall asleep. You have to stay awake to kind of plot or think about how you can fix the future,” said Lauren Hale, who researches sleep at Stony Brook University.

Right now, more than a third of us are feeling that way. It’s not restful.

“If you know the future is going to be OK, you don’t have to be on guard,” Hale said.

That lack of sleep has real financial costs. A RAND study found that lack of sleep costs the U.S. about $411 billion a year in lost productivity.

Behavioral scientist Wendy Troxel worked on that study.

“Financial stress and worry is a major contributor to sleep loss. Sleep loss can then lead to lost productivity. Lost productivity — you know, there can be this sort of vicious cycle that ensues,” Troxel said.

Those with low incomes, people of color and women were economically vulnerable before the pandemic. Now, Troxel said, they’re also more likely to lose their jobs.

“The most vulnerable in the pandemic are experiencing financial concerns and that is certainly leading to sleep disturbances as well,” she said.

Troxel also said sleep disturbances aren’t just bad for workers, productivity and the economy. They’re also bad for our health. And that, too, can get expensive.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?

This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.

Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?

India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy begins reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

Read More


We’re here to help you navigate this changed world and economy.

Our mission at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country. It’s a tough task, but it’s never been more important.

In the past year, we’ve seen record unemployment, stimulus bills, and reddit users influencing the stock market. Marketplace helps you understand it all, will fact-based, approachable, and unbiased reporting.

Generous support from listeners and readers is what powers our nonprofit news—and your donation today will help provide this essential service. For just $5/month, you can sustain independent journalism that keeps you and thousands of others informed.