Background: Many patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) participate in the work force. However, the impact of OSA and sleepiness on work performance is unclear.
Methods: To address this issue, we administered the Epworth Sleepiness Scale (ESS), the Work Limitations Questionnaire (WLQ), and an occupational survey to patients undergoing full-night polysomnography for the investigation of sleep-disordered breathing. Of 498 patients enrolled in the study, 428 (86.0%) completed the questionnaires. Their mean age+/-standard deviation (SD) was 49+/-12 years, mean body mass index (BMI) was 31+/-7 kg/m(2) mean apnea hypopnea index (AHI) was 21+/-22 events/h, and mean ESS score was 10+/-5. Subjects worked a mean of 39+/-18 h per week. The first 100 patients to complete the survey were followed up at two years.
Results: In the group as a whole, there was no significant relationship between severity of OSA and the four dimensions of work limitation. However, in blue-collar workers, significant differences were detected between patients with mild OSA (AHI 5-15/h) and those with severe OSA (AHI>30/h) with respect to time management (limited 23.1% of the time vs. 43.8%, p=0.05) and mental/personnel interactions (17.9% vs. 33.0%, p=0.05). In contrast, there were strong associations between subjective sleepiness (as assessed by the ESS) and three of the four scales of work limitation. That is, patients with an ESS of 5 had much less work limitation compared to those with an ESS 18 in terms of time management (19.7% vs. 38.6 %, p<0.001), mental-interpersonal relationships (15.5% vs. 36.0%, p<0.001) and work output (16.8% vs. 36.0%; p<0.001). Of the group followed up, 49 returned surveys and 33 who were using continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) showed significant improvements between the initial and second follow-up in time management (26% vs. 9%, p=0.0005), mental-interpersonal relationships (16% vs. 11.0%, p=0.014) and work output (18% vs. 10%; p<0.009).
Conclusion: We have demonstrated a clear relationship between excessive sleepiness and decreased work productivity in a population referred for suspected sleep-disordered breathing. Screening for sleepiness and sleep-disordered breathing in the workplace has the potential to identify a reversible cause of low work productivity.