One of the tricky things about being a firefighter can be the shifts and working at times when your body expects you to be asleep. Learning to manage an unusual sleep routine is crucial as not only can this have a dangerous effect on your work, it can also have long-term effects on your health in other areas.
Effects of Shift Work
Studies have shown that people who work hours outside of the ‘normal’ working day can face problems with sleepiness and fatigue. This can result in poor concentration, accidents and errors as well as injuries and this is all accentuated when dealing with a dangerous job like firefighting. According to the International Classification of Sleep Disorders, shift workers are also at risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease due to either their sleep pattern or their eating pattern.
According to data in the Sleep in America poll, 14% of Americans do shift work and it does have a clear impact on certain areas of the cycle. They are 30% more likes to have excessive daytime sleepiness versus 18% for non-shift workers and 61% more likely to have insomnia versus 30%.
One of the most commonly reported symptoms of a disruptive sleep pattern is excessive sleepiness. This is where people aren’t adapted to their different sleep routine and experience periods of insomnia when they should be sleeping and drowsiness when they are awake.
When you are due to be awake, take short naps on breaks to help alleviate the drowsiness. Work with others on your shift to keep active during your shift when you aren’t busy to help maintain alertness and if you don’t nap during your breaks, go for a little walk or other activity to stimulate wakefulness.
Coffee and other caffeinated drinks can serve a purpose to help keep awake but need to be used carefully. Use in the middle of the shift but not too near the end when you are planning to go to sleep as it takes quite a long time for the effects of caffeine to wear off. This means it can still be keeping you awake when you want to be asleep.
There are a few basic ideas to keep in mind to help deal with this. Make sure your bed is comfortable – if the mattress is getting a little lumpy in places consider getting one of the best mattress toppers to make it more comfortable.
When you are sleeping, use eye patches or a similar blackout item to keep out the light and make sure the room is as dark as possible. Use ear plugs if there is noise around you that you cannot ignore.
As mentioned, keep away from coffee and other caffeine drinks near bedtime and another tip is to keep away from alcohol. While it may have an initial benefit to falling asleep, within a short time, your body gets used to it and it ceases to have any affect – it can end up keeping you asleep.
Another tip is to have a warm bath just before bed to relax your body and avoid doing anything strenuous just before bedtime, as this will get your body into an alert state, not a sleep one.