Sleep Deprivation in the Fire Service

Addicted to Awake: Sleep Deprivation in the Fire Service

By Jacqueline and Sean Toomey

Firefighter health should not be “collateral damage” from a career on the job. The inadvertent destruction from being addicted to awake is one of the greatest threats that firefighters face today. Recently, a chief told me he didn’t know if his members thought the topic of sleep was information worth learning. All I had to ask was, “Did you know sleep deprivation is medically linked to the leading killers of firefighters including heart attack, cancer, and suicide?” Let’s remember the time firefighters weren’t interested in wearing self-contained breathing apparatus, turning in gear to be washed for cancer prevention, or quitting the era of smoking in the firehouse. This speaks volumes to our resistance toward firefighter health and wellness. It is our chiefs’ responsibility to pave the way for valuable information and trainings to reach the department, which will have a lasting impact on their members’ lives.

Sleeping for Your Life

The hard truth is that almost 40 percent of firefighters suffer from a sleep disorder. According to a screening of 6,933 firefighters, 80 percent of those who tested positive had no prior awareness or previous diagnosis of their condition. This one study, conducted by Laura K. Barger, Ph.D., instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School, alone may have saved 2,219 firefighter lives! Whether firefighters have interest in learning about sleep doesn’t change the dire matter: sleep deficiency is a health-wrecking problem that needs to be addressed. Once we acknowledge the problem, we can implement solutions to mitigate sleep deprivation and lower the risks for heart attack, cancer, and more.

Normalizing chronic sleep loss is a mortal addiction; it is taking out our members one life at a time. A chronic lack of sleep contributes to various biological changes that ultimately lead to disease development, independent of primary sleep disorders. Dr. Faith S. Luyster of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society states that chronic sleep deficiency is causal in the development and exacerbation of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases and, ultimately, a shortened life span. Let’s bring to light to this fatal issue to create a call to action to initiate a direct conversation that, no matter what rank you serve as, challenges the status quo on how sleep is undervalued in the world of firefighting and the real things we can do to improve it.

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