International Journal of Wildland Fire International Journal of Wildland Fire Society
Journal of the International Association of Wildland Fire
REVIEW (Open Access)

Sleep in wildland firefighters: what do we know and why does it matter?

Grace E. Vincent A D , Brad Aisbett B , Alexander Wolkow C , Sarah M. Jay A , Nicola D. Ridgers B and Sally A. Ferguson A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Central Queensland University, Health, Medical and Applied Sciences, Wayville, SA 5034, Australia.

B Deakin University, Geelong, Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN), School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University, Geelong, Vic. 3220, Australia.

C Monash Institute of Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience, School of Psychological Sciences, Monash University, Clayton, Vic. 3800, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Email: g.vincent@cqu.edu.au

International Journal of Wildland Fire 27(2) 73-84 https://doi.org/10.1071/WF17109
Submitted: 19 July 2017  Accepted: 29 December 2017   Published: 22 February 2018

Journal Compilation © IJWF 2018 Open Access CC BY-NC-ND

Abstract

Wildland firefighters perform physical work while being subjected to multiple stressors and adverse, volatile working environments for extended periods. Recent research has highlighted sleep as a significant and potentially modifiable factor impacting operational performance. The aim of this review was to (1) examine the existing literature on firefighters’ sleep quantity and quality during wildland firefighting operations; (2) synthesise the operational and environmental factors that impact on sleep during wildland firefighting; and (3) assess how sleep impacts aspects of firefighters’ health and safety, including mental and physical health, physical task performance, physical activity and cognitive performance. Firefighters’ sleep is restricted during wildfire deployments, particularly when shifts have early start times, are of long duration and when sleeping in temporary accommodation. Shortened sleep impairs cognitive but not physical performance under simulated wildfire conditions. The longer-term impacts of sleep restriction on physiological and mental health require further research. Work shifts should be structured, wherever possible, to provide regular and sufficient recovery opportunities (rest during and sleep between shifts), especially in dangerous working environments where fatigue-related errors have severe consequences. Fire agencies should implement strategies to improve and manage firefighters’ sleep and reduce any adverse impacts on firefighters’ work.

Additional keywords: health, performance, physical activity, planned burn, safety, sleep restriction, wildfire.


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