One of the hardest parts of being a firefighter aside from the actual fire-fighting can be adapting to the shift work. Sleep is an absolutely vital thing to everyone and when you work a pattern that means you don’t sleep ‘regular’ hours; if you don’t manage it properly it can have a big effect on your work. And when your job is as important and dangerous as a firefighter, this risk is accentuated.
Many people that work shifts admit they never adapt their schedules and get used to sleeping at strange times. But there are some top tips from people about how to deal with shift work that can help manage your day, even if this is a night. The last thing you want is to be between callouts and find yourself dozing. While the station house might have pool tables or games machines to keep people occupied while there is a lull, the best solution is to get the sleep routine right and avoid this worry.
A piece published in Psychology Today discusses the importance of the sleep environment. The idea behind this is that whenever you try to sleep, even if it is in the middle of the day, you must prepare the room as if it was night. Make sure the room is very dark by using blocking shades and if there is a lot of noise around the house, use earplugs. Make sure phones are unplugged and the cell phone is on vibrate only. As a last resort, a white noise generator is a great gadget that can help mask the day-to-day noises around you with a relaxing sound that will help induce sleep.
Similarly, preparing for bed is also more important than most people realise. Keep the bedroom as cool as possible and take a warm bath around one hour before bed. Don’t do anything stimulating before bed like playing computer games and don’t eat anything too heavy. Also, avoid caffeine for at least five hours before bedtime, ideally and similarly avoid alcohol. Don’t do any exercise within three hours of when you go to bed.
During the shift
Staying awake during your ‘day’ can be challenging and activities such as games can be great for keeping you occupied. Exercise is also another good stimulant to help fight off sleep and get your body running. Make sure you eat regular meals and avoid foods that are high in fat as this can induce a sluggish feeling. Use caffeine but only sparingly during the shift so that it isn’t too much in your system when you finish and come to sleep. Studies have shown that the lowest part of the day is 4am, so where possible have a break at that time and do something a little active in a brightly lit area.
Knowing your own signs of sleepiness can also be a crucial thing. If you start to feel the symptoms of sleepiness, this is your body telling you it needs sleep. When this happens, move around and do something mentally stimulating to shake off the sleepy feeling and get yourself ready for your next call.