Sleep Disorders

14 November 2014

Sleep disorders common among fire fighters

New findings demonstrate the impact of common sleep disorders on the health and safety of fire fighters, and their connection to the two leading causes of death.

Sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea, insomnia, shift work disorder and restless leg syndrome are common among fire fighters, new research shows.

Chronic health issues

These conditions are linked with a higher risk for car accidents, a research team from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston suggests.

Fire fighters with sleep disorders are also more likely to have chronic health issues, such as heart disease and diabetes. However, most fire fighters with sleep disorders are not receiving the treatment they need, the study revealed.

"Our findings demonstrate the impact of common sleep disorders on fire fighter health and safety, and their connection to the two leading causes of death among fire fighters," which are heart attacks and car crashes, explained Laura Barger, associate physiologist in Brigham and Women's Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders.

Read: Managing sleep disorders

"Unfortunately, more than 80 percent of fire fighters who screened positive for a common sleep disorder were undiagnosed and untreated," Barger said in a hospital news release.

Common sleep disorders 

In conducting the study, researchers examined nearly 7 000 fire fighters from 66 different fire departments across the United States. The fire fighters were evaluated for common sleep disorders and other health issues. The participants were also asked about their likelihood of falling asleep at the wheel, their involvement in car accidents, as well as any injuries or close calls they had while driving.

Of all the fire fighters included in the study, 37 percent were diagnosed with a sleep disorder. These fire fighters were more likely to have been involved in a car accident and more likely to report having fallen asleep while driving, the findings showed.

The participants with a sleep disorder were also more likely to have health issues, such as heart disease, diabetes, depression and anxiety, according to the study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

Although the study found an association between sleep disorders and certain health problems in fire fighters, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

Read: 6 bizarre sleep disorders

Dr. Charles Czeisler, chief of Brigham and Women's Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders, explained in the news release that "occupational sleep disorder screening programs can identify individuals who are vulnerable to adverse safety and health consequences, including those that are leading causes of death in fire fighters."

Czeisler concluded, "This study provides the rationale for further research evaluating the effectiveness of occupational sleep disorders management programmes on disease risk, mental health and safety outcomes."

Read more:

A natural approach to sleep problems
Is it possible to sleep too much?
Bad sleep increase prostate cancer risk

Image: Tired fireman from Shutterstock


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Dr Alison Bentley is a general practitioner who has consulted in sleep medicine and sleep disorders, in both adults and children of all ages, for almost 30 years. She also researches and publishes on a number of sleep-related topics both in formal research journals and lay publications including as editor of Sleep Matters, an educational newsletter on sleep disorders for doctors.

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