Firefighter Sleep Deprivation: What You Need to Know

First responders, and firefighters in particular, are struggling when it comes to maintaining positive sleep hygiene, according to a report released by the International Fire Chiefs Association, and other studies support the findings.

For example, researchers found that about 37 percent of the 7,000 firefighters who took part in the study were living with at least one sleep disorder, a fact that caused these firefighters to be twice as likely to get into an accident than other participants who did not have a sleep disorder. Additionally, the study published in The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that the firefighters with sleep disorders were also twice as likely to have diabetes or a heart condition, and more than three times as likely to say they experienced issues of anxiety and depression.

Why is this important? The New York Times reports that more than 60 percent of deaths of firefighters are caused by car accident and heart attack. Is sleep deprivation putting your life at risk?

The Nature of the Job?

Blame it on the long hours, graveyard shifts, stress of the job, and stress at home caused by the job if you like — and all these things likely do play a part — but the fact is that few Americans get the amount of sleep they need to function at their best, and firefighters are just like other Americans. In fact, Firefighter Nation says that less than 10 percent of firefighters eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly in order to maintain their optimum body weight. These issues may not only impact the ability to fall asleep and/or get quality sleep but may also contribute to the deadly heart conditions experienced by so many firefighters. Many are also chronically sleep-deprived.

Change doesn’t have to be huge in order to have a significant impact on your ability to fall asleep more quickly, or to stay asleep longer and wake more rested than you are today. Start by implementing one of the following, and then try another one until you are getting the sleep you need to stay alert on the job and healthy:

  • Eat more healthy food. Cutting down on sugar, unhealthy fats, fried foods, trans fats, and other things you just don’t need can improve your weight, increase your energy levels, and help you sleep better as well.
  • Exercise. If you work out regularly — and that means weight-bearing exercises as well as cardiovascular exercises — you will be more tired when it’s time to go to sleep and fall asleep faster.
  • Quit smoking. This is a good idea for a number of reasons, but it will help you sleep better as well, especially if you avoid smoking before bed.
  • Talk to your department. There are numerous things the fire chief can do to improve sleeping conditions in most departments. Depending on the situation in your department, you may be able to suggest specific changes to current sleeping arrangements that will improve the quality of sleep of the people on shift.

Need more tips? Learning more about the science of sleep as well sleep deprivation and its effects can help you to get a better understanding of why it’s important for you to make changes to your sleep routine starting tonight.

This article was originally published by Michael Healy, Fire Chief, Central Nyack Fire Dept, NY and Treatment Consultant for Fire Service at American Addiction Centers, on LinkedIn.

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