Mar. 18 – Today marks the 15th annual World Sleep Day. Sleep is critical to well-being and can present a special challenge for first responders.
Sleeping well can be a challenge, between rotating schedules, high stress work environments and less than ideal sleep conditions, first responders are five times more likely to be diagnosed with sleep disorders than the general population. However, there are things that you can do to help get better sleep.
Dr Maude Bouchard, Neuropsychologist and clinical lead at HALEO Clinic offers a few tricks to mitigate the impacts of shift work on sleep.
- Use naps as mitigation tools
Napping can help firefighters who can’t sleep for long periods of time during the day. If you work nights and sleep during the day and your daytime sleep period isn’t long enough, consider adding a long nap before the shift. Keep at least 30 minutes to an hour between the end of the nap and the start of your shift in order to be alert and be ready to be on duty. Short naps (15-20 minutes) can be useful to reduce sleepiness during work, when there is an opportunity.
Pay attention to transition days (days on which you move from one type of schedule to another), which often must be managed differently. For example, when we move from night work to a day shift, it is recommended to sleep a first block in the morning after the shift, but it is not recommended to take a nap in the afternoon, to ensure that our sleep pressure is high enough to fall asleep quickly at night and resume a regular schedule.
- Use light in a smart way
Light is the main synchronizer of the biological clock, a structure in our brain that governs biological rhythms (hormones, temperature fluctuations, etc.). Exposure to light can be stimulating, while blocking light can promote sleep.
When you work evenings or nights and are drowsy, exposing yourself to light can help your alertness. On the flipside, after a night of work, expose yourself to as little daylight as possible before going to sleep. To do this, you can use sunglasses or even a pair of glasses with orange lenses (which cut the blue light wavelengths, which are particularly stimulating for the brain) until you go to sleep.
- Adjust expectations.
Daytime sleep is generally shorter and of lower quality than night-time sleep. Why? Because the light outside sends a wake-up signal to the brain, and hormones that typically aid sleep at night (like melatonin) aren’t secreted. It is therefore normal for the energy to be lower following one or more-night shifts. Adjusting expectations and the number of things to do on these days (or on subsequent days off) can reduce productivity pressure and the possible dissatisfaction of not being able to do everything.
- Identify other variables that interfere with sleep.
Shift work schedules have an impact on our sleep-wake cycle, as do several other variables that are easier to control. In summary:
- Stop caffeine in the second half of your evening or night shift.
- Make sure your bedroom is completely dark and as quiet as possible (use of plugs or white noise is recommended in a noisier environment).
- Take time to decompress after a shift and before going to bed.
- Evaluate your sleep
Take a few minutes to complete a free self-evaluation of your sleep, you will get an instant report showing your result and that will help you identify areas of improvement: https://evaluation.haleoclinic.com/screener/sign-up/1stresponders/en-ca
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