An article by Eric Saylors at Medium.com emphasizes how important sleep is to firefighters.
He reports that one study found men kept awake between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. showed a 70 percent reduction of cancer-fighting immune cells known as “natural killers” after one night. These cells detect and control early signs of cancer. The data in the study indicates that even a modest disturbance of sleep produces a reduction of natural immune responses.
Below are excerpts from Mr. Saylor’s article, which also draws information from several other researchers:
“Lack of quality sleep could explain why cardiac events are common in firefighters, regardless of fitness programs. ”
“Rosaline Cartwright, professor of psychology in neuroscience, explains the mind needs sleep to processes stressful events. Without sleep the brain cannot decouple the memory of tragic events and the physiological response. Essentially, if you can’t sleep on it, you can’t get over it. This explains a new epidemic in the fire service; firefighter suicide.”
“Cartwright’s research suggests the mind needs dreams followed by REM sleep and to process upsetting experiences. In other words, you have to recreate tough experiences in your dreams so your mind can break them down. Without the combination of REM sleep and dreams, memories of traumatic events remain fresh in the person’s mind. As a result, a firefighter who is sleep deprived accumulates traumatic events like a trash can that is never emptied.”
“Contributing to cancer, cardiac events, and PTSD, lack of sleep may be the greatest cause of firefighter deaths.”
Eric Saylors is an instructor, author, pilot, consultant, and 3rd gen firefighter with a Masters degree in security studies from the Naval Post Graduate School.