Fighting fires is a dangerous job, but it may include dangers that are beyond rushing into burning buildings to save lives. New research indicates that firefighters are also at high risk for sleep disorders.
Using a sample of almost 7,000 firefighters, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) examined the prevalence of common sleep disorders. They also looked at how those disorders relate to health and safety issues like heart attacks and car crashes. They found that sleep disorders are highly prevalent, and associated with substantially increased risk of motor vehicle crashes and cardio-metabolic diseases among firefighters.
Sixty-six U.S. fire departments were selected to participate in the sleep disorders screening and educational program. Firefighters were also surveyed about health and safety, and documentation collected for reported motor vehicle crashes. Participants 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.
Researchers found that nearly 40-percent of the subjects screened positive for sleep disorders including obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), 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.
The researchers said in light of the findings, occupational sleep disorder screenings are recommended for at-risk professions like firefighters.