It might surprise you that men in their 20s need to be screened the most. Those with severe sleep apnoea have 10 times the risk of dying from heart-related issues than men with no issues.
Sleep is important for us all, but especially front-line emergency service workers. Shift work makes sleep issues more likely. 37% of firefighters, for example, suffer from at least one type of sleep disorder.
Sleep apnoea is characterised by interruptions in breathing during sleep for 10 seconds or more, five times per hour. They interrupt sleep and decrease oxygen levels in the blood. This condition is linked with cardiovascular diseases, particularly hypertension – which, we know is common in young people.
50% of young adults diagnosed with hypertension go untreated, as it doesn’t usually present symptoms. Furthermore, approximately three-quarters of emergency responders have pre-hypertension or hypertension.
Reduced sleep, more work & sleep apnea can have grave consequences
One study showed 33% of police officers have sleep apnoea. The unpredictable hours, shift work and the exposure to trauma that can lead to unrested sleep is a serious issue. Being overweight is a major known risk factor of sleep apnoea and a condition that many first responders struggle with.
Shift workers miss home-cooked meals and often find it difficult to sync up with family and friends. There’s also the trauma and tragedies of emergency services, which increases the risk of substance abuse and mental health problems. All of these factors contribute to compromised sleep.
For first responders, good sleep isn’t a luxury. It’s absolutely essential to the performance and responsiveness in emergencies, where lives are on the line. One study revealed alarming numbers:
- 28.5% of participants experienced excessive sleepiness
- 45.9% nodded off or have fallen asleep while driving
- 56.9% fell asleep while driving at least one to times a month
- 13.5% fell asleep driving at least one to three times a week.
A culture of ‘sleep is for the weak’
First responders exist in an environment where signs of weakness aren’t welcomed and it’s difficult to express feeling defeat. It’s easy for others to shrug off a lack of sleep, but for first responders, this is a chronic issue. Sleep apnoea and other disorders don’t just put individuals at risk, but the greater community.
We need to bring light to sleep disorders, too, because they’re often the precursor to emotional exhaustion, anxiety, depression, burnout, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. One research piece even talks about poor sleep being the reason for firefighter deaths. And again, almost all of these cases go undiagnosed.
So, this issue is more than just not feeling fatigue.
For young first responders at the start of their careers, creating healthy sleeping habits is critical. It’s important not to fall into toxic patterns of reaching for substances to fall asleep and to invest in strategies that process (and release) trauma, as it comes up.
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Please note: some articles on this website are compiled from material obtained externally. Although we make every effort to ensure information is correct at the time of publication, we accept no responsibility for its accuracy. Health-related articles are intended for general information only and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please consult your doctor. The views expressed in articles are not necessarily those of Emergency Services Health.