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Lack of Sleep Seems to Be More Deadly for Firefighters Than Fire

Sleep disorders are rampant among firefighters, and the majority do not seek treatment

(Photo: STRINGER SHANGHAI/Reuters/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Contrary to what you might assume, the majority of fire fighters are not killed by fire but by traffic accidents and heart attacks, the New York Times reports. And behind those leading causes, researchers think, might be lack of sleep.

Scientists from the Brigham and Women's Hospital screened around 7,000 fire fighters from 66 fire departments around the U.S. for sleep disorders. Nearly 40 percent of the fire fighters tested positive for some type of sleep disorder, including obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia, shift-work disorder and restless leg syndrome, the New York Times reports. Of those who did suffer from a sleep disorder, fewer than 20 percent had been diagnosed or sought treatment, Time adds. 

Lack of sleep can have serious real world repercussions. When the researchers controlled for things like body size and gender, they found that those firefighters who slept the worst were also the ones most likely to mess up on a job. As the New York Times reports, sleep-deprived firefighters were twice as likely to fall asleep while driving or get into a crash. They were also more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease or diabetes, and three times as likely to experience depression or anxiety. 

Fire fighting consistently ranks of the top of most stressful jobs lists. While the researchers do not delve into the reasons that firefighters suffer from such a high instance of sleep issues, sleep deprivation is a leading symptom of those suffering from high stress. 

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