If you Google “sleep disorders” or “sleep + health risks” you’ll find that the sleep medicine community and the media produce a wealth of coverage on the negative health impacts of poor or inadequate sleep. Browse around and you’ll discover that sleep deprivation and untreated sleep disorders are tied to a nightmare list of health issues and disease states:
- Heart disease
- Impaired cognitive performance
—and everyone’s favorite,
Now consider that the people that serve all of us on the front lines of safety and defense are suffering from sleep disorders at double or more the rate of sleep disorders in the general population.
How’s that for a sobering thought? What if you dial 911 and the first responder that comes to your rescue is operating on so little sleep he or she is functionally inebriated? Or if that police officer, firefighter or service person in your family not only puts his or her life on the line every day, but is also doubling his/her chances for a serious sleep disorder and the diseases that go with it?
The three studies that show the increased risks for having a sleep disorder also report:
- Police have a 2-3 times higher risk for motor vehicle crashes than the general public;
- 80% of firefighters with sleep disorders were undiagnosed and untreated;
- 47% of vets with sleep disorders have sleep apnea
I think about the health consequences of poor and inadequate sleep all the time. I talk to my patients, I talk to the public; I bend every ear and twist every arm I can find to advocate for better sleep practices. It’s pretty apparent that working to improve the sleep of our first responders and vets would have a powerful efficiency: it will help the individuals themselves, their families and the general public safety as well.
So what can we do?
- Increase screening—all first responders and military personnel should be evaluated annually by their physicians for sleep disorders and tested if they exhibit symptoms of sleep disorders, particularly sleep apnea;
- Increase education—first responders and their families need to know that they are at an elevated risk for sleep disorders and to be aware of the serious health issues associated with sleep deprivation and sleep disorders;
- Increase advocacy—one of the best ways to thank first responders and military personnel for their service is to insist on evaluation and treatment for sleep disorders
We owe those who protect and serve us a debt of gratitude and we demonstrate our concern about their well-being by supporting better education on the critical importance of good sleep to health and the equal importance of screening and treatment for sleep disorders.