Sierra Smiles, along with Sierra Sleep Airway and Wellness Center, is teaming up with the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District for our initial in-depth sleep study this summer. As a leading dentist focused on the complete health and wellness of our patients, we have diligently focused on the impact of sleep on the body. The American Dental Association frequently espouses the importance of modern dentistry’s role in identifying sleep disorders. In 2017, the ADA House of Delegates wrote, “Dentists can and do play an essential role in the multidisciplinary care of patients with certain sleep-related breathing disorders and are well-positioned to identify patients at greater risk of sleep-related breathing disorders.”
Sierra Smiles is proud to participate in a study of firefighters in the Reno, Tahoe, Truckee area that furthers our understanding of sleep disorders:
- Why they happen.
- How they impact the human body and methods for treatment.
We are particularly excited to participate in a study that helps our community’s first responders. We believe that this study will help us all care for those individuals who work to protect our communities each and every day.
First Responders and Sleep Deprivation: Why Firefighters Are So Tired?
There have been multiple studies conducted throughout the years on first responders and sleep deprivation, but not nearly enough to develop improved solutions to the problem. The National Library of Medicine notes that firefighters in particular are vulnerable to the impact of sleep deprivation, writing, “Firefighters are vulnerable to irregular sleep patterns and sleep disturbance due to work characteristics such as shift work and frequent dispatch.” A conservative estimate from Fire Engineering magazine states that as many as 40 percent of firefighters have some form of sleep disorder. Even more concerning is the magazine’s statistic that 80 percent of fire personnel surveyed had no idea they had any sort of disorder at all.
As explained in a recent article on the library of medicine website, there are a variety of factors that contribute to this issue. Firefighters must often bunk at the station and be “on” at all times. While they are able to sleep on duty, they cannot truly relax the way they would at home on their day off. Their sleep may be interrupted repeatedly in a single night, or over a period of days.
Issues with Wakefulness, Insomnia, and Exhaustion Also Bleed into a Firefighter’s Home Life.
Poor sleep hygiene impacts a person even when they are not on call. They may find themselves dozing throughout their day off in an effort to recapture lost rest. As many sleep disorder specialists will tell you, there’s really no such thing as recovering lost sleep. USAMC Health primary care physician Dr. Chuck Smith explains it as such: “Yes, people can make up for lost sleep on another day. The amount of sleep lost and recovered may not be the same, though. Most of the first few hours of sleep can be recovered, but if the amount of sleep lost is more than a few hours, not all of it will be recovered.”
Dr. Smith also says that after 5 hours, the ability to recover sleep deteriorates rapidly. If individuals are losing more than 20 hours in a week, they will begin to suffer from the impact of sleep deprivation. Extended bouts of sleep deprivation can cause even greater issues. This can be an enormous challenge for first responders to overcome.
Why Is Sleep Deprivation Bad?
If you’ve ever had even one bad night’s sleep, you know just how terrible it can be the following day. And that’s just one day! Persistent sleep deprivation is bad for your health — in addition to being unsafe for those around you. Sleep is so critical that the human body cannot survive without it. Mental and physical health can both deteriorate when there is a profound lack of restful sleep. In the most severe cases of sleeplessness, death is a real possibility for the sufferer. Many people are able to function on limited sleep without immediate consequences. That can make them less vigilant about recognizing that sleep is as important to the body as water, food and shelter.
When it comes to a life-saving job like firefighting, quality sleep is even more critical. Firefighters must be able to work under pressure in severe, deadly conditions. One wrong decision, one misstep, and the firefighter could lose their life, the lives of people they are working to save, or the lives of their colleagues. Firefighters are also called upon to perform life-saving steps such as CPR until responding paramedics arrive. A clear head is absolutely critical when administering chest compressions or performing first aid.
The final concern for first responders is the deterioration of mental health. Firefighters and other first responders carry a heavy responsibility. They are often the first witnesses to extremely traumatic events like car accidents or house fires. They may even feel they are responsible for circumstances outside of their control. This would be a burden on a well-rested individual, much less a person who operates with a perpetual sleep deficit.
How Sierra Smiles Is Trying to Help with Sleep Study
At Sierra Smiles, we know the impact that poor sleep can have on a person. We see it often in our dental and sleep disorder patients. That is why we are doing our part to help. By partnering with the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District, we can get first-person insight into the factors that impact a firefighter’s sleep. Stay tuned for our blog over the next few months to learn more about the results of our firefighter sleep study, and to get helpful advice on sleep, dental health, and complete health.
Are you concerned about your own sleep patterns? Do you feel exhausted or irritable after sleeping, even when you feel you have slept for an adequate number of hours? We can help! Contact either Sierra Smiles or Sierra Sleep Airway and Wellness to get more information about a sleep study.