The stop-go nature of firefighting and the impact of overnight emergencies can make it difficult to get quality sleep every night. But the quality of our sleep plays a huge role in how we look after ourselves, our workmates, and the community.
All emergency services workers sign up to roles that may require interrupted sleep. It is up to us to manage the impacts of these sleep patterns.
Stresses from our workplaces more broadly and general life can also have a great impact on our quality of sleep; it is not just from emergency response.
Just two hours of lost quality sleep per night has been linked to reduced alertness/awareness, slower reaction times and poorer decision making.
How’s this for an interesting stat? 17 hours of being awake equates to blood alcohol content 0.05. How safe are you driving after a night of interrupted sleep?
The following section provides information on how to improve sleep quality and engage in the recovery process.
Please refer to the Meditation Audio page for a Sleep Meditation sound clip.
Set a sleep routine. Like exercise and eating, sleep is a habit and it takes practice to establish a good sleep habit. A daytime snooze can be a great refresher but research shows that daytime sleep is rarely of the same quality as a good night’s sleep.
Cut out the food and drinks that contain sugar or caffeine, by mid-afternoon. Make dinner your lightest meal, finish it a few hours before bedtime, and skip spicy or heavy foods, which can keep you awake with heartburn or indigestion.
Avoid drinking a lot of fluid before bed, also alcohol disrupts the pattern of sleep and brainwaves that help you feel refreshed in the morning. It may help to go to sleep but it does not help you to stay asleep.
Regular physical activity improves sleep quality and duration. Exercise may reduce stress and tire you out.
Try some relaxation techniques to help lower stress levels and clear your mind prior to going to bed.
Set up a good sleeping environment. Adjust temperature and light levels a couple of hours before bed (replicates the sun setting and trigger the release of melatonin). Try to expose yourself to brighter light straight after you wake up.
Try taking a warm shower an hour or so prior to bedtime, this will help your body feel cooler when it is time to sleep.
Set a routine bed time and wake time (alarm) that allows for 8 hours of sleep. Turning clocks away so you cannot ‘watch the time' will help in reducing the stress in knowing that you may not be meeting your expectations for sleep.
During your ‘sleep time’ switch message and email notifications off. This helps maintain your sleep hygiene as well as creating work/life boundaries.
Reading can be relaxing, however, avoid content such as current affairs or study material while prior to trying to sleep.
Avoid bright lights, and devices that emit blue light such as phones, computers and TVs. Set devices to night mode, decrease brightness, or use a blue light filter app. Blue light tricks your brain into not producing melatonin, thinking that it's actually daylight and not time to settle down for sleep. Some recent research suggests that blue light from a mobile phone can decrease quality if sleep by up to 20%.
If you’ve worked during the night, try and reserve the day after your second night shift as your recovery day…plan nothing, do very little and aim for an early night. Communicate what you need to the people you live with.