The Cost of a Good Night's Sleep

From prescriptions to top-of-the-line mattresses, some consumers shell out a lot for shut-eye.

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When it comes to sleeping peacefully at night, it's not so much about the money under the mattress as the money invested in the mattress—and in white noise machines, blackout shades, and medicinal sleep aids.

The long list of sleep-time accoutrement is eye-opening and potentially pricey. But missing sleep is costly for an individual's health and wallet. And there are costs for the greater population—compromised workplace productivity and auto accident risk among them.

[See 10 Ways to Give Your Money a Makeover.]

Some people welcome the sandman by creating a well-designed den of relaxation with soothing sounds and perfect temperature, and by avoiding no-nos such as caffeine or late-evening stimulation like exercise. For others, their pursuit of a good night's sleep has become a more serious medical issue.

While there's no standard definition for insomnia, suggested criteria include taking more than 30 minutes to fall asleep, waking up too early, or sleeping less than 6 1/2 hours a night, according to Ruth Benca, a sleep disorders doctor at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. Insomnia is twice as likely in women as men and affects some 6 to 10 percent of adult Americans, yet often goes undiagnosed and untreated.

Lack of sleep costs the average U.S. worker 11.3 days each year, or $2,280 in lost productivity, according to a 2008-2009 study published in a September 2011 issue of the scientific journal Sleep, by lead author Harvard Medical School's Ronald Kessler, a psychiatric epidemiologist. For the nation, the total cost is 252.7 days per year and $63.2 billion in lost productivity. The results were computed from a national sampling of 7,428 employees, part of the larger American Insomnia Study. The drug companies can use the information, too, of course; Sanofi-Aventis Group generated the study, which was sponsored in part by Merck & Co.

For individuals (or some insurance companies), the average cost of treating insomnia ranges from about $200 a year for generic sleeping pills up to $1,200 for behavioral therapy, according to study co-author James K. Walsh, executive director and senior scientist at the Sleep Medicine and Research Center at St. Luke's Hospital in Chesterfield, Mo.

Most important room in the house? For some consumers, life's pace and stress justifies their "relaxation" budget. After all, we spend a good chunk of the day in the bedroom, even if our eyes are (hopefully) closed much of the time.

The big-ticket item, of course, is the mattress. Top styles include traditional coil spring, air, latex, and memory foam. Consumers vary in their preference for firm, soft, or somewhere in between. Adding to what can be a confusing shopping experience, price tags stretch from $300 to $30,000 and beyond.

[See How to Buy a Bed.]

It's the low end of that range that ignites some criticism from furniture trade groups. They argue that comfort and quality have gone out the window because of extreme promotional pricing. "We continue to be critical of the industry's practice of touting low-ball queen prices like $299 and $399, a trend that just makes it that much harder to sell consumers the better beds that they really want," say bloggers at trade publication Furniture Today.

A survey the group conducted with HGTV showed that more consumers remain interested in queen sleep sets priced at $1,000 and up. Some 47 percent said they are planning to spend $1,000 or more, with 26 percent of the consumers queried, the largest single group, focusing on price points from $1,000 to $1,199.

"Rather than continue the 'Race to Zero,' as one producer memorably described the push toward lower price points, the industry should embrace the fact that many consumers are willing to spend $1,000 or more for a new sleep set," a Furniture Today blogger wrote.

Sleep experts say expensive mattresses aren't necessarily better, but concede that quality will rise with price, to a point. In the $1,000 sweet spot, consumers should weigh several factors, including coil density and moisture risk. For instance, memory foam mattresses may be a better fit for sleepers that move very little; active sleepers risk higher body temperature (and sweat) that could eventually lead to mold in the foam.