Americans are getting less sleep, but emergency responders get less
COLUMBIA - New research suggests that working Americans are getting less and less sleep, but emergency service providers are getting even less. Columbia first responders aren't immune to the national trend.
Researchers from Ball State University in Indiana analyzed data from the National Health Interview Survey. The study observed self-reports of sleep duration among 150,000 Americans in various occupations.
According to the study, the percentage of Americans experiencing short sleep duration has risen from 30.9% in 2010 to 35.6% in 2018.
The researchers also found that nearly 50% of people in emergency services or military occupations said they experienced inadequate amounts of sleep, which is defined as seven hours or less.
Researchers suspect one of the key factors affecting their sleep levels is the stress that comes along with the job.
"In our occupation, part of what we work through is ultimately sleep deprivation," said Columbia Professional Firefighters President T.J. O'Brien.
Due to the nature of emergency response jobs, regular sleep cycles are not always maintainable.
“We have to be ready to go at any moment, any time of the day. Day or night,” said Columbia Assistant Fire Chief Brad Fraizer.
Fraizer said late night calls can often interrupt a person's sleep cycle and ability to fall back asleep. But he said firefighters may adjust to this pattern throughout their career.
"We do tend to get a little more used to it as time goes on," he said. "Maybe early in your career it's hard to go back to sleep after you get back from a call. Generally over time you get used to that and can go right back to sleep."
But Fraizer said sometime the type of call can have a large effect on one's ability to sleep.
“We encounter all types of emergencies," he said. "Everything from fires to automobile accidents to medical emergencies. And some of that stuff is pretty traumatic.”
He also noted that the inability to sleep can often be a helpful indicator.
“Having difficulty sleeping is a good sign that something is bothering you.”
In addition to the resources fire departments and police departments have to help deal with stress and reduced sleep, Columbia Fire Department is implementing a new schedule to help better address the issue.
"The International Association of Firefighters has done lots of research on sleep deprivation," O'Brien said. "One of the best schedules that came up is what we call the 48-96."
The 48-96 schedule is a schedule where firefighters work for 48 hours and get the following 96 hours off. According to O'Brien, this allows them to make up on lost sleep.
“Probably one of the most dangerous aspects of this job is if you return to work still sleep deprived and then add to it,” he said. “When you have a night where you have a deprivation, it takes you 3 nights of good sleep to recover completely.
Both Fraizer and O'Brien said they are hopeful that the new work schedule will help address the issue of reduced sleep on a better level. The Fire Department will also monitor the effectiveness of the schedule.
In addition to emergency responders' lack of sleep, Ball State's research also analyzed other occupations with similar issues.
Research showed that 45% of people in healthcare support occupations reported not getting enough sleep. It also showed that 41% of people in transport, material moving or production related occupations reported the same.