Protecting Your Sleep as a First Responder
Date:Friday May 21, 2021
While many people see sleeping well or being a poor sleeper as just a way of life, it doesn’t have to be that way. Many people who experience sleeplessness, especially if your first responder life ends up interrupting your sleep, can improve through better sleep hygiene.
Sleep hygiene refers to the practices that can help you to rest better, which science has shown actually help people sleep more, even in tough circumstances. Here are just a few of the ways that the CDC and other organizations recommend for improving sleep through good habits.
- Screens, especially those that emit blue light, have been shown to make it harder to fall asleep. Banishing these screens from the bed area or setting a limit, such as no more screens for the hour before sleep, can really help you build up a natural sleepiness that makes falling asleep easier.
- Caffeine, alcohol, and big meals in the time right before sleep can all have a negative impact on sleep duration or quality; even if a glass of wine makes you sleepy, it may result in restless sleep later in the night. Experiment with eating earlier and stopping any caffeine or alcohol intake earlier in the day.
- If your schedule allows, many people report that a designated bedtime and wake-up time each day improves their overall amount and quality of sleep. Inconsistent schedules are the nature of the first responder’s life, so if you can have a fairly consistent sleep time on any days off, you may be able to still take partial advantage of this habit formation.
- Dimming or cutting out the lights before bedtime can cue you for sleep, as can following a predictable wind-down routine before bed, such as reading a chapter of a book or listening to soothing music.
- For those who really struggle with sleep, many insomniacs find value in getting out of bed (however strange that sounds) if they can’t sleep. Going and doing something else avoids creating dread about time spent in bed without being able to drift off. Once you feel some drowsiness again, you can head back to bed, but don’t just leave yourself restless, tossing and turning all night.
- If you sleep lightly and run into a lot of sleep interruptions, test out earplugs, noise cancelling earphones, or a white noise machine as a way to protect yourself from startling awake.
Making sleep a priority can help you regulate your mood and feel alert and focused during the day, so it’s worth it to find what works for you.
Resources for Getting Restorative Sleep:
- Recognize the risks through reading up on the National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project.
- Try non-work-related ways to improve your sleep to see if something outside your work life could actually be holding you back from longer, deeper rest.
- Harvard Health also offers a range of ways to improve your sleep, all of which can be adapted even to interrupted and non-ideal sleep schedules for first responders.
- Know why this is important: Sleep deprivation has a huge impact on first responders, so even if you think you’re doing fine, try to get more healthy sleep and see if it doesn’t make your experience better!