Health and Wellness

Do Firefighters Even Sleep?

 

As though getting a solid night sleep wasn’t challenging enough for you while on shift, now we have proof that firefighters are at greater risk of suffering from some type of sleep disorders that makes it even worse. The result of a study on 7,000 firefighters nationwide was released in 2015 reporting that 37% of firefighters suffer from some sleep disorders such as Circadian Rhythm Sleep-Wake Disorder, sleep apnea and chronic sleep restriction (Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 2015).

Let’s look at what some of these sleep disorders look like for your body. Circadian Rhythm Sleep-Wake Disorder means your body clock is constantly out of whack because your sleep/awake cycle is forever changing as the calls come in and as your work shift changes. Your body lives in this constant cycle where it knows that it needs to be alert the second that a call comes in, even if you are sleeping.

Sleep apnea is where your breath is pausing while you are sleeping, this can happen for seconds or minutes at a time. You stop breathing while you are sleeping and then your body recognizes what is happening and jolts you out of it through a loud snort or choking sound, so you start breathing again. After that, you continue to breathe as normal until the next time it happens throughout the course of your sleep cycle. Even though this can occur on average of 30 times a night, you generally don’t even register that you’re choked into breathing again. If you are sharing a bed or sleeping space with someone, they are probably more aware that it is happening than you are.

Firefighters from Santa Fe Springs with the Area E L.A. County Strike Team, sleep off a long night fighting fire in Julian and Wynola, on a bench in Julian Wed. morning. They were able to save at least 50 houses as well as businesses, like the Red Barn and the pizza joint. From left to right are Captain Tom McGauley, Bill Noble (with moustache) and Eddie Nilo. Peattie

Just as someone in your sleeping space is probably aware if you suffer from sleep apnea, they are also probably very aware if you are snoring. Snoring is actually a sign that you might be suffering from sleep apnea because snoring can indicate that there is an obstruction of the airway and the air has to squeeze by to get in and out. The 2015 study mentioned above identified that 28.4% of firefighters have sleep apnea. That is a pretty high number compared to the 5% of the US population that has it (Statistic Brain Research Institute, 2016). It’s pretty safe to say that some attention needs to be given in this area for firefighters.

 

Chronic sleep restriction is just as it sounds; your sleep is restricted due to the nature of the job. You tend not to get the full amount of sleep needed in one stint of time for your body to go through the process of repair because you are consistently being awoken to respond to an emergency. Adults need on average of 8 hours of sleep a day to fully repair the body. How often does it happen that you get 8 hours of solid sleep, without interruption?

So how do you know if you have a sleep disorder?

It might be time to figure out if you have a sleep disorder. Do you wake up feeling groggy or with a sore throat like you were snoring all night long? Maybe you suffer from a sleep disorder and don’t even know it. You can take this self-assessment here and see what your results are: http://www.usc.edu/programs/cwfl/assets/pdf/sleep_test.pdf or you could just ask anyone at the station, and they will probably tell you just how badly you snore, that is if they can hear you over their snoring.

What do I do about it?

Just because you might suffer from one of these sleep disorders, doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to have to sleep with one of those machines over your mouth and nose that makes you sound like Darth Vader when he is breathing, there are other treatments available and some you can even do on your own. I am going to give you a few options to try, but you should still see a doctor to dig a little deeper into the problem.d5fe86cc529923b2888f992232e6a452

If you have a few extra pounds hanging around from the winter, or maybe even last winter, work on losing them. Not only does that help with your sleep apnea but it reduces your risk for heart disease too. So try just 30 minutes of exercise a day, this exercise does not include throwing on your gear and blazing your way into a burning building. You need actual planned cardio; your body will thank you.

Another option can be to change the position you sleep, try not to sleep on your back. There are plenty of new memory foam pillows out there now that can help you sleep in positions to support your head and neck for better breathing. So get online and order one, well maybe order two, one for the station and one for those occasional nights at home in your bed.

Sometimes your mind can get in the way of letting you fall asleep and stay asleep, and this can lead to sleep disorders. Meditation can help; I’m not saying you need to sit on a pillow with your legs crossed chanting umms. Meditation is as simple as finding a quiet space for 10-15 minutes and focusing on your breathing. Once you are in a space, find a comfortable way to sit. Close your eyes and take deep breaths in and out, focus on each breath you take. Focus on the feeling of the air coming into your lungs and out of your lungs. Breathe in for a count of ten and then exhale for a count of ten, emptying your mind of any thoughts except for the feeling of air entering and exiting your lungs. Just try it for 5 minutes and work your way up to more time. Once you are getting the hang of it, there are so many resources online if you search for Meditation or Mindfulness that can guide you even further.

If you think that you might have a sleep disorder, you should still schedule an appointment with your doctor to make sure there isn’t something worse going on. They can also help offer other methods of treatment. Failing to sleep soundly can be the beginning of even greater issues such as heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, memory loss and increased risk of death. You owe it to yourself, the firefighters at your station and your loved ones to take care of yourself.

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The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Fire Service Fitness

Like it or not when you entered the fire service you lost your right to be out of shape. Nobody is going to stop you from munching down an entire bag of ShirtplateCheetos while sitting in your sweatpants and watching Law and Order reruns but if that is normal for you, you suck. Firefighters are occupational athletes and our job is far too important to not be prepared. Watching YouTube videos and critiquing every online article from a beanbag chair accomplishes no actual good in this world and you still suck.
Let me swim upstream just a little ways. I realize things get in the way. Life happens. Kids happen. Second jobs and second mortgages. Time seems to be shorter than ever and as much as you might want to be fit enough to make it to the CrossFit games that’s just not a realistic goal for 99% of firefighters. So what is realistic? Use the time you do have. Don’t lie to yourself, your crew, your family, and your city by saying “I don’t have any time” because you do. Readiness has to become a priority. That may include time on shift when you labor alone in the engine bay with an ancient rusty barbell. It may include “Death by Burpees” at home in your garage when you really just want to catch up on The Walking Dead. Yes, you might even have to get up an hour earlier on a rainy Saturday to meet up with the other mental patients at the gym. If that’s too hard then tough tallywhackers. Either start taking some baby steps to improve today or write a letter to your family telling them you knew how to prevent a heart attack on duty but were too lazy to do anything about it. Nobody else should have to explain that to them but you.
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If you are a chief officer or decision maker and are reading this, WAKE UP! You create the culture your crews live in. It makes me mad enough to eat beeswhen I hear of some pencil pushing desk jockey going out of their way to keep good men and women from improving themselves. Fit responders deliver a better service to their jurisdiction and incur fewer injuries doing so. Those facts aren’t debatable. You need to be creating a wellness plan. If that is too foreign of a concept then at least be a facilitator and get out of people’s way.

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All this seem a little harsh to you? Good. The “Participation Trophy” mentality is not welcome in the firehouse and titty babies can hit the bricks. You will not be missed by those brave few who fight on. I don’t care about your feelings, I care about your life, my brothers who ride the truck with you, and the citizens you are sworn to protect. If you can’t do your job you are useless to me. I’m not telling you that at 60 you have to have a sub 2:00 Firefighter Combat Challenge time. That’s stupid. I am telling you that despite your achy shoulders and old football injuries you have a physical potential that you are obligated to maintain. It’s a sliding scale that declines over time but if you still jump on the truck and other lives depend on you then you better learn to suck it up and do the right thing.

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Now that I’ve pissed half of you off here are my 5 guidelines for Fire Service Fitness:
1.) More is NOT always better.
In 2009 the Surgeon General recommended getting 150 minutes of moderate to intense exercise per week. In 2011 it was modified adding at least two days of strength training per week. Salty Sam says “since the Surgeon General is a big puss and I’m a superhero firefighter I need to at least triple all that right?” Salty Sam is stupid.
ldawg   Do I think the US government always knows best? Not even close. What’s my point then? Somehow most people have come to believe that within their body lies an infinite well of physical potential and it can only be obtained by wrecking themselves repeatedly. If a 10 minute conditioning workout twice per week  is good then a 60 minute workout once a day will get me fit at least ten times faster right? No, just no. You aren’t Rocky and fitness doesn’t work that way.
Let’s stay with the “well” analogy. Within your body is a well and its depth represents your level of fitness. The more fit we are the more we can draw from it when we need it but the well doesn’t refill instantly. Continuing to demand more and more without time for recovery and replenishment will result in crumbling walls and muddy water (loss of energy, chronic fatigue, injuries). Wellness is a long term goal and it must be approached correctly which leads right into point number deuce.
2.) Don’t be stupid.
Stupid seems so much more prevalent in men and I speak from a vast experience of stupid. We just do a lot of dumb things and somehow think the consequences will miss us. They won’t. It always catches up.p1050635
“I don’t need much sleep”. Yes you do. Oh, and you’re an idiot. Hundreds of thousands of hours of research has been performed and tens of thousands of pages have been written about the importance of sleep. If you don’t approach that 8 hour per night goal you are set for failure before getting off the launchpad.
“It’s been hurting for a few weeks but I figured I could just push through the pain”. You can’t. With a little experience you will know the difference between your muscles telling you they are sore and your body telling you it needs attention. Ignore the warning signs and you’ll be down for the count and your idiot record will still be intact.
I believe there is a small part of our consciousness that tends to make good decisions. In just about every idiotic choice I’ve made I can recall that voice of reason. I have usually chosen to ignore it but it was clear and more times than not “I knew better” was the conclusion. In his book Unbeatable Mind, Mark Divine calls it our “witness”. Stop being dumb, listen to your witness, slow down and use some common sense.
3.) Follow good programming.
This means following programming that is good for you at your current strength and conditioning level, not something fit for an elite Ironman. Unless you are an elite Ironman competitor then by all means carry on. “Scaling” is not a bad word (see #2 above). If you don’t want to live in the hurt locker and long term success is your goal then learn to swallow your pride. I plan to contribute for another 20 years and that isn’t going to happen without well thought out goals and a plan to achieve them.
While some factors on the fireground are indeed unknown and unknowable, there are many things we continue to encounter. Our gear will always be hot, heavy, and cumbersome. Axes have a predetermined weight. Victims will continue to be difficult to lift and move. SCBA bottles contain a finite amount of air. Limiting your training to long slow distance running isn’t going to prepare you very well for forcing doors and rescuing fat Uncle Randy.
“The Law of Specificity of Training” is something you probably have never heard of and thaEFLF-6-Weeks-To-Rippedt doesn’t matter. What does matter is specifically preparing for the known aspects of the job. Functional movements performed in realistic time domains transfer well to the fireground. A good trainer or coach will provide a well balanced, whole body approach to helping you improve your overall fitness. A great trainer will help you add in elements unique to the needs of a firefighter and make certain allowances from time to time.
To  “follow good programming”  includes not jumping ship in a month because you haven’t transformed into Thor via divine intervention. You didn’t get 50lbs overweight overnight and there is no 6 week program, even if accompanied by a miracle bowel cleanse and super powered Ovaltine energy boost, that is going to undo the damage that 10 years of crap eating and recliner riding has done.
4.) Do what you love.
When I first became a personal trainer, the manager at our gym was speechless when she heard me tell a client to avoid the treadmill. That client loathed the monotony of it and dreaded every trip to our facility so I sought out other ways to help them achieve their goal of losing weight.
If you would rather close your thumb in a car door than run, don’t make yourself do it five times a week. At the very least dramatically trim down the distance  you include in your workouts. When you actually enjoy training it will be the start of an awakening. I almost never run a distance over 400 meters but my 5k time is within two minutes of a few years ago when I was logging around 25 miles per week.
I began toying with CrossFit in 2011. I’d heard a lot of buzz about it especially relating to combat readiness so I wanted to see what it was all about. It was 2012 before a “box” opened in my city but I’ve been a member ever since and consider many of our athletes family. I have not dreaded a workout since diving in at CrossFit Protocol. That’s not to say I don’t have a good deal of 945401_t607apprehension about some of the crap our head coach programs. (If you are reading this Scott I still think it’s good programming but it does make me think you are a sadist and a sicko on occasion). It’s different to face something tough with a team that cares about who you are and how you do. Isn’t that what the fire service is supposed to be like?
There is nothing wrong with following Outlaw programming on your own if that makes you happy. Love riding your bike? Ride on. Love shooting hoops? Wear the leather out. If it is helping you become a better firefighter I salute you. For the love of all that is holy and in the name of Brunacini just find some stinking passion!
One other small piece of advice. Find a way to be accountable. Invite some of your crew over a few nights a week. Ask the wife to buy in with you. Heck, your annoying neighbor might even be the push you need. People tend to stay true for far more longer when someone else is expecting them to.
5.) Eat real food.
I’m not a nutritionist but you don’t need a PhD to know that eating a gazillion calories worth of honey buns every day probably isn’t the greatest of ideas. The most simple way I’ve heard it expressed is this: “eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar.” If it grows in the ground in the form you find it in or if it had a face when alive its probably somewhat nutritious.
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I would encourage you to check out whole30.com or wholelifechallenge.com and nerd out. I am not a fan of short term diets but both of these websites are full of great information. My wife and I completed the strictest form of the Whole30 and it was life changing.
If you aren’t ready to jump on board just yet, start by making one better decision at a time. Start drinking water, then start drinking more. Trim down your soda habit then cut it out. Stop eating sweets after supper for a few weeks, then stop after lunch.
CONCLUSION
You have been blessed with an opportunity at having the best career in the world. Thousands have gone before you creating a rich heritage that has made the fire service an object of pride, respect, and dedication. Millions now depend on the American firefighter during their most vulnerable moments and when you show up they expect nothing less than Superman. Don’t be a moron and piss it all away because you love the taste of ice cream. Everybody loves ice cream. I just love being a firefighter more.
Health and Wellness

Station Pride’s Wellness Initiative

Fitness.  Diet.  Mental Wellness.

Firefighter health and wellness is one of those topics that immediately turns off most readers. It’s not a fun topic to read about and for most people its hard to acknowledge our weaknesses. Likewise, trying to get firefighters to admit their weaknesses is nearly impossible.

It’s impractical to think we can work this job and expect that it won’t affect us mentally or physically. hqdefault

Responding to car accidents, trauma victims, fires, destruction, disasters, untimely and timely deaths, blood, screaming, dire situations, rescues, shootings, stabbings, domestic, violence, toxic chemical spills… we handle it all. Each call takes a little piece of us without us even realizing it.

The average citizen would take the action of breaking a window as being extreme or performing CPR for the layperson would be a life changing experience, where for us, it’s all part of  daily life on the job. There isimages a necessary tendency where we have to remove the emotion of the situation in order to mitigate it. Repeating that action over a career has the ability to produce adverse  mental health consequences. Sometimes I think we’re just here to bare witness to the worst humanity has to offer and somehow deal with it.

Mental illness in firefighters should be an expectation instead of a rare or embarrassing occurrence. Granted we are a unique breed of people where we can accept the tragedies of the days events and go back to normal life, however, when coupled with the mental challenges of running calls, add in a careers worth of sleep deprivation, poor diet, inadequate exercise, family stress, anxiety leading to depression…and you get the picture. Each one, individually, can deliver an entire host of problems. Together it’s almost a guaranteed recipe for struggle.

0211 food firefighters 10As firefighters, we tend to mask , hide, or deny there is anything wrong with us. Some of us are affected more than others, while few, seemingly, aren’t affected at all. Mental illness is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign that we have souls, a heart, and a conscience. At times in our life we could all use a guide map or directions.Firefighter

Station Pride is taking the initiative to promote firefighter health and wellness. A cornerstone of taking pride in the fire service is to take pride in ourselves and each other. We all need to remove the stigma of mentvfrclimbersjpg-898e2159b5407b86tal health and obesity, address suicide prevention, PTSD support, and addiction assistance, while promoting positive mental health, physical fitness, and practical healthy eating.

Our initiative involves pulling together existing and amazing resources for firefighters to seek guidance or receive the assistance they may need. We will post regular wellness articles and content provided by FireStrong.org, Firefightersweightloss.com, and Tongs and Turnouts. 

Please stay tuned and help Station Pride end the stigma of mental health while assisting brothers and sisters with weight-loss and diet change by making these topics a part of everyday firehouse conversation. It’s time we take the lead on changing the culture of our profession. It’s past time


 

Overview  Firestrong.org is an independently operated online resource for members of the Fire Service and their families. The mission of Firestrong is to offer mental, emotional, and physical support to each member of the fire department and their families by providing educational tools, resources, crisis intervention assistance (crisis line) and peer support services.       


 

Chappy  Most who participate in the profession start off fit and at least close to reasonable weight standards. Unfortunately, many gain weight and find it difficult or impossible to lose weight. They struggle to maintain enough fitness to pass whatever testing may be required for continued service. The emphasis for many is to “protect their right” to continue in the service. 

 Many give up hope that they can lose weight and place themselves at great risk because they are over weight or obese. Here at “FireFightersWeightLoss.com” we understand and have experienced the problem. 


 

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 8.18.13 AM  Tongs and Turnouts is an Facebook page operated by a firefighter/brother in Australia. They provide amazing meal ideas for the fire station. Give them a follow and try to incorporate some of their practical and healthy meals with your shift. Every fireman loves a good feed! This page is to help share ‘Firies’ love of good food, and recipes for/from station cook ups.