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Firefighters Battle Undiagnosed Sleep Disorders, Says New Study

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Latest research shows that firefighters are at higher risks of undiagnosed sleep disorders.

Sufficient sleep has been recognized as an essential aspect of health promotion. It is also believed to reduce the risks of chronic diseases and conditions such as diabetes, obesity, depression, cardiovascular diseases and more.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that about 25 percent of Americans complain of occasional sleeping disorder, while about 10 percent of the U.S. population suffers from chronic insomnia, or sleeplessness.

According to a study conducted by the researchers at the Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH), firefighters are at higher risk of sleep disorders, which can lead to poor health and increased risk of motor accidents.

In a countrywide sample of about 7,000 firefighters taken from 66 fire departments, the researchers noted the dominance of common sleep disorders. These disorders were also associated with adverse safety and health outcomes in the firefighters. The study observed that about 37 percent of the total sample suffered from some type of sleep disorder such as obstructive sleep apnea, shift work disorder, insomnia and restless leg syndrome.

Firefighters with sleep disorders also reported to have fallen asleep while driving than those who did not suffer from sleep disorder. The study also found that firefighters who tested positive for sleep disorders were more likely to report for adverse health conditions such as anxiety, depression, cardiovascular disease and more, in comparison to firefighters who tested negative for sleep disorders.

Laura K. Barger, associate physiologist in BWH's Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders, who also led the study, revealed that about 80 percent of all firefighters tested positive for some sort of sleep disorders were untreated or undiagnosed.

Charles Czeisler, chief of BWH Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders suggests that the study is important as it highlights the importance of occupational sleep disorder screening programs. He highlighted the importance of identifying individuals more susceptible to adverse health and safety consequences, which includes leading causes of death in firefighters.

"This study provides the rationale for further research evaluating the effectiveness of occupational sleep disorders management programs on disease risk, mental health and safety outcomes," says Czeisler.

The study has been published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

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