Sleep Review, The Journal for Sleep Specialists, recently curated content from Fire Engineering titled Addicted to Awake: Sleep Deprivation in the Fire Service. In a study of 6,933 firefighters across 66 departments in the United States conducted at Harvard Medical School, research concluded that 40% of firefighters suffer from a sleep disorder, and 80% of those affected were either undiagnosed or unaware of the disorder. Validated research shows that sleep deprivation significantly increases risk for cancer, suicidal ideation and behavior, and cardiac arrest. Your chance of suffering a fatal heart attack increases by 200% if you sleep less than 6 hours a night. This is an issue your life may literally depend on, and is something the local should be taking head on. Sleep deprivation also affects Firefighter burnout and workplace safety, recently highlighted by the U.S. Fire Administration as a current event and emergent issue. The authors recommend three steps to improve sleep in our profession:
- Install red lights in every firehouse for evening use to support the circadian rhythm.
- Departments should ensure a daily rest and recovery time dedicated to unplugging, napping, or doing Sleep Recovery Practices™.
- Every leader, formal and informal, should shift the dialogue and attitude about rest, promoting sleep hygiene understanding that being rested optimizes performance.
"You will die faster from sleep deprivation than starvation. We value eating, so no matter how busy our schedules become, crews make time to sit down and eat. Yet, when our schedules become grueling, the first thing sacrificed is sleeping adequately or enforcing a nap. The glorification of “powering through” on three hours needs to stop!" (Toomey & Toomey, 2018)
The City of Lynchburg places no emphasis on improving this. Progressive departments that champion health and wellness initiatives have introduced red lights and ramp-up station alerting at night to offer some relief. What has happened in Lynchburg? We have switcher to louder and more frightening station alerting for responses, and have chosen to alert every station no matter the time of day for fires - even when you don't have to respond.