It’s no secret, firefighters are chronically sleep deprived. It’s the one thing I hear about most during the firefighter fitness tests that I do every year here in Oregon. Plus I’m married to a firefighter so I really know the toll it takes on the person and their family. Now I know there’s work demands and sometimes responsibilities at home that you can’t change, but hear this:
One thing I make a point to ask my tired firefighters is: “Are you making sleep a priority? As in, are you making an effort to get in as much as you can?” EVERY TIME I ask, I hear “No…not really.”
So here’s why that’s a bummer: sleep is just as important for health, longevity and quality of life as exercising and having a healthy diet. And it’s especially important for mental health. Not to mention the effect it has on your looks…everyone knows that “you look tired” means you look like sh**.
But, for some reason, we as a society think sleeping is lazy. I tell all my clients to NOT buy that idea and be smart – there is healing and restoration that occurs when we sleep. Our bodies don’t work right without that restoration. Sleep is productive! Put it on your to-do list, seriously. Go to bed early. Give yourself permission to take a nap for God’s sake.
Now, start feeling and looking better without the guilt. Getting healthier never felt so good.
I want to hear from you. In the comments below, tell me how you currently deal with sleep deprivation and what steps you might consider taking to get more rest.
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For quite some time I did not get any meaningful rest especially at the fire station. I contributed it to making calls and hearing the radio call tone off and on all night. But it was not until I would get up out of bed at home and realized I was too physically tired to start the day. I knew something was not right so I took my wife’s advice and took a sleep study at a clinic. It was determined I had a severe case of sleep apenea. My physician was very concerned it was affecting my health and well being. I was prescribed CPAP therapy and for the first time in years I was getting a full night of uninterupted sleep. I no longer doze off during the day and feel more alert and stronger. That was two years ago and I wish I had sought help much sooner.For those firefighters that are not sleeping well please do not put it off-seek help and advice now. Your health, family and profession depends on it. Stay healthly and may God bless.
Thanks so much for this, Rick! Sleep apnea is more common than people think, and like you said, many wait for years before getting it treated. Sleep apnea can also cause weight gain (it is also brought on by being overweight), and hypertension, which is a real danger to firefighters. I actually wrote an article about this in the December 2013 issue of Fire Engineering. Hopefully your comment helps many others!
Their is firehouse sleep and home sleep. I am always more relaxed and sleep longer and deeper at home. I try and get to bed at 830-900 at the fire house. This helps. Also taking a shower at work before helps relax to.
Thanks Frank! Going to bed earlier is such a simple strategy, yet many people just don’t take advantage of it.
I read your article and the comments that followed. I also have sleep apnea which I put off getting treated. I finally had the sleep study and was set up with CPAP. I have noticed a little difference in my energy level from time to time however, my greatest challenge is the interrupted sleep. At the station, I will hit the rack at about 2100 hrs and find that I wake around 0300. At that time I can lay in the bunk for an hour or two awake.
I am not sure how to fix that I also find that with the projects I have on my days off I will work through being tired and cannot convince myself to take a nap. My wife tries to talk me into a nap however, I answer her with there is not enough time. I have things to do… It also seems as though I can’t get a good nights sleep when I have a lot on my mind.
Hi Francis, I completely understand. I have problems falling asleep myself and have to work really hard to clear my mind and keep myself on a schedule (going to bed around the same time every night) so I don’t lay awake for hours. Since I’m not a sleep specialist, I can’t give you any specific recommendations except that you should try taking your wife’s advice. Remember, sleep is productive so you can put it on your to-do list. Ultimately, being more rested will cause you to be more productive throughout the day anyhow!
Am a 20 yr. firefighter and new to this site. My sleep issues began nine years ago concurrent with non-Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis and treatment. The chemo and steroid treatment left me wired resulting in little sleep for the three months I had them. Since the lymphoma had blind-sided me, I was determined to investigate the cause. I discovered that besides carcinogens, poor circadian rhythm has been listed to possibly cause lymphoma. So why should it be a surprise that firefighters who frequently have to get up and work during their rest period and have poor sleep are at higher risk for cancer? Now my blood work shows I have developed polycythemia and the thought is that is probably related to sleep apnea. So next on my list of things to do is get a sleep study.
Wow Duane, I had never heard that poor circadian rhythm is a possible risk factor for lymphoma. Thanks for sharing your story.
DEFINITELY. Thank you Dr. Karlie! Despite recent studies linking sleep deprivation to things like obesity, HTN and cancer, in true “200 years of tradition unimpeded by progress” FD fashion many places see sleeping as laziness and take steps to make sleep more difficult. Gotta have the radio up at night. Can’t catch a nap during the day. Etc.
At night I keep my radio in the bunkroom just loud enough to hear the box tone pre-alert and if my guys (in the common gender nonspecific use) want to catch a nap during downtime, I’m all for it. Let’s be smart! And if you trivialize your guys’ sleep for stupid “that’s the way we’ve always done it” reasons, you don’t understand what brotherhood is.
I love your comment Keith, thank you! Hopefully someone else will change their attitude about firefighters sleeping when they read what you’ve written.
Dr. Karlie, Robert, 20 year NHLymphoma survivor and expert, at lymphomasurvival.com recently stated this in his newsletter: To Bed by 10:30
Quality sleep is regarded as the most potent of all four pillars in creating
favorable gene expression. This is because all aspects of quality sleep favor
ONLY the health of our normal cell population. There is no possibility that
some “off-target” aspect of quality sleep can/will stimulate the growth of the
malignant lymphoma cell population. See Core Concept #4: The TwoPopulation
Fact with Follicular Lymphoma for clarity.
Disturbances in sleep regularity (circadian rhythm) promote cancer.
Sleep deprivation is common, leading to loss of physical vitality often
accompanied by an increase in psychological anxiety, undermining every
aspect of our health.
A person’s immune system is connected very closely to their sleep status.
(Lymphoma is an immune-based malignancy).
From our many phone consultations it would appear that sleep/anxiety
problems are more than just common…they are a lymphoma driver. Refer to
item #1 the July 2017 newsletter re anxiety.
Regards, Duane (retired F/F and 12 yr NHL survivor)
Thanks Duane, very interesting!