Sleep Disorders Found To Be Widespread in Firefighters

A study found that due to sleep disorders, firefighters are at an increased risk for motor vehicle accidents and poor health status.

Regionally, the Northeast has the highest fireground injury rate, according to the National Fire Protection Association. But when firefighters are not battling a blaze, they’re also at a high risk for heart attacks and motor vehicle crashes. That’s because sleep disorders are highly prevalent in the profession.

Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) researchers, led by Laura K. Barger, PhD, associate physiologist in BWH’s Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders, took a national sample of nearly 7,000 firefighters, and found that not only are sleep disorders widespread, but this is also with associated with an increased risk of motor vehicle crashes and cardio-metabolic diseases.

Findings of the study were published November 13 in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

“Our findings demonstrate the impact of common sleep disorders on firefighter health and safety, and their connection to the two leading causes of death among firefighters,” Barger said in a statement. “Unfortunately, more than 80 percent of firefighters who screened positive for a common sleep disorder were undiagnosed and untreated.”

The 7,000 firefighter participants were assessed for common sleep disorders and surveyed about health and safety. They reported current health status, previous diagnoses of sleep and other medical disorders, the likelihood of falling asleep while driving, motor vehicle crashes, near crashes, and injuries—plus supplied official documentation for reported motor vehicle crashes.

Specifically, the researchers found that a total of 37.2 percent of firefighters screened positive for sleep disorders.

…including obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia, shift work disorder and restless leg syndrome. Firefighters with a sleep disorder were more likely to report a motor vehicle crash and were more likely to report falling asleep while driving than those who did not screen positive.  Additionally, firefighters with sleep disorders were more likely to report having cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression and anxiety, and to report poorer health status, compared with those who did not screen positive.