Sleep Deprivation

Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of sleep. It’s nice. I’ve had a little time away from work and it has been a welcome break. (However, this break is part of the reason for the lack of medical-related/EMS-related posts. When I’m not there, my mind isn’t triggered to think about this kind of thing. Anyway…)

But did you realize that your paramedic is sleep deprived? When they come to your house at 3 in the morning, you may not realize them rubbing the sleep out of their eyes or yawning because you, too, are tired — but they are likely pretty exhausted, especially if they work in a busy suburban area on a 24-hour shift schedule.

A study was recently done for Sleepy’s, the Mattress Professionals, which involved data analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health Survey It looked at professions that get the most, and least, amount of sleep and which, consequently, the best and least rested. It’s no surprise where some of these rank.

Last week, I saw an article about this was on but this week, I noticed that it had hit the mainstream media on…at least the part about the most sleep deprived professions.

Because we can, we will start with the careers that are the most well rested:

  1. Forestry, logging workers
  2. Hairstylists
  3. Sales representatives
  4. Bartenders
  5. Construction workers
  6. Athletes
  7. Landscapers
  8. Engineers
  9. Aircraft pilots
  10. Teachers

It’s interesting to look at why some of these professions are so well rested. (And to be quite honest, there’s one on that list that really surprises me. But we’ll get to that.)

Several of these professions require that you work outside and rely on the light of the day. As a result, particularly in the shorter months, they are able to take advantage of getting more rest. Many of the other jobs on that list are also low on stress levels, like hair stylists.

But some of those, like teachers, are often up early to get to school and get things ready before the kids arrive and are often up late grading papers and writing lesson plans. It’s not like their schedule is exactly a 9-to-5 job. And, perhaps the most surprising profession on that list to me, aircraft pilots are not generally a group of people I consider well rested, particularly those that do overseas flights due to constantly dealing with jet lag. Then again, that particular group may not have been looked at.

Now, onto the professions that are least well rested:

  1. Home health aides
  2. Lawyers
  3. Police officers
  4. Physicians, paramedics
  5. Economists
  6. Social workers
  7. Computer programmers
  8. Financial analysts
  9. Plant operators
  10. Secretaries

Again, there are a few surprises on this list — and certainly some that were no surprise at all. We’ll start with the surprises first.

Secretaries are not exactly a group of people I would place on a list saying they get the least amount of sleep. The largest underlying cause that the article mentions for why any chosen profession makes this list is likely due to stress. I’m not a secretary but I don’t really envision that as a really stressful job…at least not one that would make it one of the top 10 least well rested professions. For me, I also have to say that financial analysts, computer programmers and plant operators certainly don’t seem to be that stressful of jobs that they would make this list either. Economist I might be able to understand. But, that’s to my untrained and medically-minded self.

Now onto those that are not surprises:

Lawyers. Why? Because they have a lot of work. And it’s not exactly stress-free. I love, though, that the article suggests that lawyers might be up worrying about their student loans that allowed them to get through law school. Apparently the average loan amount for graduates in 2009-2010 was nearly $69,000 for those who went to a public school and just over $106,000 for those who attended a private school for their education. Yikes!

Social workers. Oy. These folks should be hailed as heroes. Their case load is exceptionally high, these days — way too high. They have a difficult time keeping up with their cases (and rightfully so, due to their load) but they still do a phenomenal job! They work day and many nights to provide necessary services. Often, they have to take call time and, depending on where they work, that call time can be a very significant amount of their “off” time.

Police officers. Well, where should I begin? If you had people shooting at you, wouldn’t you be stressed out? Yeah, me too. They always have to be on alert and aware of their surroundings which can wear on anyone’s energy levels. And, I know that around here, our guys work on a rotating shift. They do 4 weeks on days and then flip to do 4 weeks on nights. That’s difficult to get on any kind of regular sleep schedule that way.

Now onto the topic I am most familiar with: the medical fields. Physicians, home health aids and paramedics. All of these have irregular schedules, many times working for at least 12 hours at a time…and often times for many more than that, particularly paramedics and physicians in training (medical school, anyone?). I know that in my system, paramedics can work up to 36 hours at a time without a break. It’s a challenge, to say the least, to work that long and continue functioning.

Aside from the ridiculous hours, there is unbelievable stress the accompanies these positions. When you hold someone’s life in your hands, that’s not exactly a walk in the park. Dealing with death, difficult and belligerent patients, lack of sleep, lack of food (or time to sit and eat it without inhaling it as you head to your next patient) — it’s a very difficult thing to deal with. Remember that’s just the work life. Just like the rest of these careers on this list, many of us have a family to take care of and spend time with. And after 24 hours (or sometimes more) of no sleep, having a family life is very difficult.

So, next time that you call 911 and your paramedic shows up at the door, no matter the hour (2 am, 2 pm…or anywhere in between), and might be rubbing their eyes and look a little less than bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, cut them a little slack. You now have seen the data to back it up that they are among the most sleep deprived in America. They will still do everything that needs to be done for you or your loved one. Most of them know what they’re doing. (I can promise you that my coworkers certainly do.) Despite how tired they may be. (And please don’t tell them how to do their job, especially when they’re tired. That will not go well. I can guarantee that.)