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Educating firefighters on sleep health 

Firefighters, who respond to emergency calls around the clock and frequently work 24-hour extended shifts, often experience acute sleep deprivation, chronic sleep deficiency and misalignment of the body clock.

(image: Lightwise/123rf)

Recently, Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) researchers in the US developed a sleep health programme (SHP) to educate firefighters on sleep health and to screen firefighters for common sleep disorders. Eight fire departments with more than 6,000 firefighters from around the US, each with three or more station houses, took part in this study.

Firefighters involved in the programme increased their knowledge of sleep disorders, fatigue countermeasures, and the impact of sleep on health and performance.

A majority of firefighters found the SHP to have useful information and would recommend such a programme to other fire departments. At the conclusion of the study, 42 per cent of firefighters participating in focus groups reported that they had positive changes in their sleep behaviour.

Researchers evaluated the impact of three different methods of training: expert-led, train-the trainer and online. They found that expert-led programmes showed the most success and firefighters in expert-led sessions were more likely to seek clinical evaluation, if identified as at-risk for a sleep disorder.

“There are challenges associated with implementing programmes like this one in operational fire departments where heavy training loads are common. The challenges are vastly outweighed, however, by the potential improvement in the health and safety of firefighters, regardless of which method of training is selected,” said Laura Barger, PhD, one of the co-authors of the report.

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