Researchers will test worksite sleep health coaching for Arizona firefighters

a firefighter taking a nap in a truck

Nearly half of career firefighters report short sleep and poor sleep quality, and about 37% screen positive for sleep disorders like sleep apnea, insomnia or shift work disorder, according to research led by the Harvard Work Hours Health and Safety Group.

Researchers in the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health are working to identify key factors for implementing workplace sleep coaching to improve sleep health in Arizona firefighters. The work is supported by a $4 million grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, a division of the National Institutes of Health.

Firefighters face unique barriers, including long working shifts and mandatory overtime, that can prevent them from using evidence-based interventions to improve sleep, researchers say.

"Other studies have showed us that firefighters' personal circumstances and shift schedules often dictate their sleep," said Patricia Haynes, principal investigator on the NIH grant. Haynes' previous research found that more recovery sleep in firefighters during off-days is associated with less stress and irritability.

Haynes and her collaborators will work with 20 fire agencies across Arizona to evaluate a flexible, personalized sleep health intervention that can be administered in real-world situations. The researchers also plan to train fire service managers and promote the benefits of sleep and recovery in the fire service.

"A sleep intervention is most likely to be successful and utilized if it is tailored to the firefighter and a firefighter lifestyle," said Haynes, one of several faculty at the Zuckerman College of Public Health's Center for Firefighter Health Collaborative Research whose research focuses on firefighter health.

Partnering on the research are various nonprofit and advisory stakeholder groups committed to the health of first responders, including the 100 Club of Arizona, Greater Tucson Fire Foundation, Arizona Fire Chiefs Association and the Professional Fire Fighters of Arizona.

"Dr. Haynes' innovative research and programs to support mental health and sleep health for firefighters have had proven results, and her work has benefited so many first responders," said Dr. Iman Hakim, dean of the Zuckerman College of Public Health. "We are so proud of the work she and her team members do to improve health for firefighters in Arizona, and this research can be used to help fire departments around the country."

In addition to Haynes, the research team includes Ed Bedrick, professor in the Zuckerman College of Public Health; David Glickenstein, professor in the UArizona College of Science's Department of Mathematics; Michael Grandner, associate professor in the UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson's Department of Psychiatry; and Daniel Taylor, professor in the College of Science's Department of Psychology. Additional collaborators from the Arizona State University College of Health Solutions include professor Matthew Buman, and research professor Dana Epstein.

A version of this article originally appeared on the UArizona Health Sciences website.

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