Lack of Sleep Linked to Firefighter Deaths

Sleep issues might be at the root of many firefighter accidents.

Researchers found that 37 percent of a sample of 7,000 firefighters had at least one sleep disorder, making them about twice as likely to get in a crash than their well-rested peers.

They were also twice as likely to have cardiovascular disease or diabetes, and more than three times as likely to report depression and anxiety, according to the study, published in The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

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That increased risk is especially important because over 60 percents of firefighter deaths are caused by heart attacks and traffic accidents, according to The New York Times. The National Fire Protection Association tracks firefighter fatalities; its records show that stress and other medical-related issues, which often result in heart attacks, are the leading cause of firefighter deaths.

"If you can get these people evaluated and treated when necessary, you can improve the health of workers," Laura K. Barger, an associate physiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, told the newspaper.

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The researchers screened firefighters from 66 fire departments across the country, interviewed subjects and studied police reports of traffic accidents. Even though some of the data was self-reported, it was clear that most of those who had a sleep disorder, including obstructive sleep disorder, insomnia, restless leg syndrome and shift work disorder, were undiagnosed.

"Our findings demonstrate the impact of common sleep disorders on firefighter health and safety, and their connection to the two leading causes of death among firefighters," Barger said in a press release. "Unfortunately, more than 80 percent of firefighters who screened positive for a common sleep disorder were undiagnosed and untreated."

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