Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, insomnia, shift work disorder and restless leg syndrome are common among firefighters, new research shows.
These conditions are linked with a higher risk for car accidents, a research team from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston suggests.
Firefighters with sleep disorders are also more likely to have chronic health issues, such as heart disease and diabetes. However, most firefighters with sleep disorders are not receiving the treatment they need, the study revealed.
“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,” which are heart attacks and car crashes, explained Laura Barger, associate physiologist in Brigham and Women’s Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders.
Based on specific criteria, 66 US fire departments were selected to participate in a workplace based sleep disorders screening and educational program. Approximately 7,000 firefighter participants were assessed for common sleep disorders. 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 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.