Four tips that can help first responders get better sleep

Fitness | Mental Health

We get it, your mind is always on the go, at work and home. 

First responders are among the world’s most sleep-deprived professionals due to constantly working 12-16 hour shifts, dealing with work/life stresses, and often post-traumatic stress. 

As sleep deprivation can lead to and exacerbate addiction and other serious health concerns, learning how to make your sleep more efficient should be a priority.

Did you know firefighters, paramedics, police officers, and other first responders are highly susceptible to sleep disorders, including sleep apnea, insomnia, and work shift disorder?

These disorders often go unnoticed until a first responder seeks treatment for anxiety, cardiovascular health issues, or diabetes. 

According to a 2015 study from the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine (JCSM), over 35 percent of firefighters screened positive for a sleep disorder.

The combination of low-quality sleep, exposure to trauma, and long unusual hours wear down brain function to a critical point, threatening the lives of first responders globally, among the primary health risks that those with poor quality of sleep face, suicide poses the highest threat to survival. 

If you or a loved one is a first responder in addiction recovery, four tips empower healthier sleeping habits. 

Healthy diet

The best way to improve sleeping habits begins with a healthy diet. But unfortunately, food, drink, and sleep form a complex relationship, where all three factors rely on each other. 

The nutrients you consume supply your brain and body with fuel to repair itself. Then sleep conserves your body’s energy while improving connections made within the brain. 

Foods high in sugars like glucose and sucrose can impair your ability to get tired naturally; a side note, late-night snacking inhibits restful sleep. 

Experts recommend eating dinner several hours before falling asleep so the digestive system isn’t rushed. If you feel hungry later in the evening, try sticking with carbs or dairy. 

Limit Chemical Consumption

Nicotine, caffeine, and other stimulants ingested too close to bedtime will disrupt sleep patterns. These chemicals function to prevent adenosine (a chemical known to cause cell inactivity), reducing the feeling of needing sleep. 

In effect, a cup of coffee doesn’t wake you up. It prevents you from experiencing weariness. Other stimulants act similarly, including several hours after drinking alcohol. 

Just know that prioritizing sobriety will lead to more restful sleep. The hard work done through recovery promotes healthy sleeping patterns and habits, which then, in turn, positively impact mental health.

Create a peaceful space

After a long 12 to 16 hour day at work, the room environment leading to ideal rest conditions probably aren’t the first thing on your mind. However, setting the room temperature between 60-75ºF, limiting light and sound exposure, and maintaining air ventilation can significantly impact your sleep quality. 

Everyone is different, so find out how your body responds under differing conditions and make it a point to create a space suitable for your sleeping needs. 

Limit screen time before bed

One of the healthiest rules for people to set for themselves these days involves self-monitoring and limiting screen time; it’s tough, but you can do it. 

The blue light our eyes absorb from various electronic devices demonstrably alters human circadian rhythms or the internally regulating sleep-wake cycle. Something as simple as looking at your phone fifteen minutes before bed has the potential to interfere with natural sleep cycles. Try to honor a “no phones in bed” rule if possible. 

For many first responders, you may be on-call for large portions of the day. If this is the case, ask a loved one or co-worker if they can assist in notifying you of work-related communications so you can optimize your quality of sleep while remaining on-call.

Again, sleep should be a priority for you, and honestly, you deserve it. Other helpful sleeping tips that deserve an honorable mention include exercise, setting consistent bedtimes, and limiting naps to half-hour intervals. 

Remember, we’re all responsible for our decisions and can take ownership of only these choices: past, present, and future. There will be days when we honor our recovery with mindful sleeping habits, just as there are going to be days that we fall short. Remain patient with yourself.