First responders are one of the many groups of individuals where sleep and sleep loss play a critical role in performance and health. The demand for first responders to be ready at any time to respond quickly and also effectively to an emergency can amount to hypervigilance that can lead to insomnia and other sleep disorders.
Why Do First Responders Experience Sleep Problems?
First responders including police officers, firefighters, and paramedics are commonly affected by sleep disorders. Erratic work schedules due to shift work, high-stress situations, and a requirement to be alert and ready for managing the most traumatic events, can leave many first responders beyond the breaking point of healthy sleep.
The Impact of Sleep Deprivation on First Responders
Sleep deprivation can affect first responders in many ways, both on and off duty:
- Poor decision-making on the job
- Impaired driving abilities, especially racing toward emergency events
- Increased likelihood of becoming injured on the job
- Increased risk of fatality on the job
- Difficulty coping with relationships off-duty, including family and friends who are not first responders
- Increased health problems, especially long-term
How Does Sleep Loss Affect First Responders?
The high intensity and ever-changing work schedules of a first responder can leave many firefighters, EMTs, and police officers adapting to a life with little sleep. Sleep deprivation can begin to affect cognitive ability, reducing decision-making skills and the ability to respond effectively in a short amount of time.
In life-threatening situations, a first responder needs to have full focus, and sleep deprivation can diminish that ability, affecting their personal health and the well-being of those they are helping.
How First Responders Can Manage Sleep Deprivation
While sleep deprivation is a common problem for first responders, there are ways they can manage sleep better.
Inconsistent work schedules leave many first responders not getting the sleep they need. They can take steps by planning naps to make up for lost sleep. If they keep a consistent schedule of naps, it can help make up for an inconsistent sleep schedule. When they have periods of time away from work when they can get in naps, they may find that their alertness and response time is much better than if they skipped napping.
Working night shifts can leave first responders sleep-deprived because they do not have adequate exposure to daylight, throwing off their natural circadian sleep cycle. Night shifts can affect natural sleep patterns and result in unhealthy sleep habits. Using artificial daylight sources for even short periods of time can help restore healthy sleep patterns and improve sleep.
Melatonin during periods when first responders are available for sleep has been shown to improve falling asleep and sleeping longer, which can be helpful for first responders struggling with insomnia.
How Can First Responders Know if They Have a Sleep Disorder?
In a study of nearly 7000 firefighters, it was discovered that nearly 40% have a sleep disorder including insomnia, work shift disorder, or sleep apnea. First responders will be the first to know that they are experiencing diminished performance or are constantly tired during work hours.
Getting tested for a sleep disorder like sleep apnea can lead to effective treatment. A First responder can experience healthy sleep even with sleep apnea and their demanding jobs.
How Sleep Apnea Affects First Responders
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) causes the airway to close periodically while you sleep, causing a disruption in breathing that wakes you up throughout the night. These frequent “apneas” can add up to lost sleep. First responders may notice some key symptoms.
Symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Drowsiness during the day, even after waking up
- Morning headaches and dry mouth
- Episodes of gasping for air during sleep
- Loud snoring
- Irritability and poor attention during your waking hours
- Poor memory
- Mood swings
- Increased likelihood of accidents or injuries
- Unexplained feelings of depression and anxiety
How A First Responder Can Get Tested For Sleep Apnea
If a police officer, firefighter, or EMT experiences any of these symptoms, they can get tested for sleep apnea. Home sleep apnea tests are easy, safe, and convenient with Sleep Care Online.
- With the Complete Care Package, schedule a 15-minute telehealth visit with a healthcare provider to discuss symptoms, upcoming sleep study, test results, and discuss treatment options.
- A multi-night, disposable home sleep apnea test is mailed to your home to be completed at your convenience.
- A physician analyzes the sleep data and provides a prescription if needed.
- Schedule an optional follow-up appointment (additional fee applies).
- We connect you to sleep experts who can offer customized sleep therapy options, assistance in equipment purchase, and initial set-up.