Palm Beach Gardens Fire Rescue
Health & Wellness

Sleep Savers

Think you can sleep when you’re dead? That’s what many firefighters say when sleep is brought into the conversation. Sleep is the number one “cure” to the crushing fatigue you may be feeling. The challenge? Figuring out how to fit more sleep into the shift-work lifestyle, and if quantity is not an option, how to improve quality. 

Improving sleep quality has other benefits than fatigue management, including better appetite control and reduced sugar cravings. One night of poor sleep can lead to an 18% reduction in leptin (the appetite-suppressant hormone) and a 28% increase in ghrelin (the appetite-stimulating hormone)3. Participants noted a 24% increase in hunger and cravings for more salty or sweet foods3. Have you felt attacked yet?

Improving Sleep Quantity - Naps

One of the most realistic strategies for shift workers is to incorporate naps into their schedules. Naps count towards the 7-9 hours of sleep per day recommendation5

Nap Timing

  • 20-minute nap: just enough light sleep to boost alertness. Focus on breathing into the stomach and try box breathing (inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 2 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds)5.
  • 20-minute “Nap-puchino”: for shorter naps, supercharge with 8-12 oz caffeinated coffee or tea. After 20-30 minutes, you benefit from the caffeine and brain break. Avoid caffeine before sleeping periods lasting longer than 30 minutes.
  • 90-minute nap: plan longer naps or sleep cycles in 90-minute increments to optimize sleep cycles and reduce grogginess when waking.

Depending on your department, naptime may be something to advocate for on-duty. Safety naps, or “Operational Readiness Drills,” can relieve fatigue, reduce anxiety and burnout, improve post-shift recovery, and improve task performance in the evening

For more details about on-shift napping, read “Should public safety be able to nap on duty?”

Sleep Environment

When off-duty, you have more control over your sleep environment and routine. Follow this checklist to optimize:

  • Invest in blackout shades or curtains.
  • Blackout any alarm clocks or other lights in the room (yes, this makes a difference!)
  • Try earplugs to reduce ambient noise (like pets scratching in the middle of the night)
  • Avoid screens – switch your phone’s display settings to “night shift” or “eye comfort shield.” This shifts the screen lighting to an orange hue, reducing the impact of blue light on melatonin secretion.

Routine is essential, too. Find a short, relaxing activity to complete before bedtime consistently. Try reading a book, doing 5 minutes of stretching, doing yoga, or taking a warm shower.

The Impact of Food

What you consume before bedtime can impact sleep quality!


  • Alcohol (3-4 hours before bed): alcohol might make you fall asleep faster, but consuming before bed can worsen daytime sleepiness2
  • Caffeine (4-6 hours before bed): this may not impact your ability to fall asleep, but caffeine will impact sleep quality. 
  • Nicotine (3-4 hours before bed): okay, this is not a food. Those who have nicotine before bed take longer to fall asleep, are more likely to wake up throughout the night and spend less time in deep sleep. 


  • Tart Cherry Juice (4-16 oz, 1 hour before bed): may improve melatonin availability and sleep quality6.  
  • Kiwi (2 kiwis, 1 hour before bed): may fall asleep faster and may improve sleep quality

Salmon (6 oz 3x/week): those who eat fatty fish regularly have better sleep and overall daytime productivity. Fatty fish is also fantastic for heart and brain health6

Sign Up for a Sleep Study

If you sleep less than 5 hours a night and spend most of the night tossing and turning, go to a sleep specialist. A study of over 7,000 firefighters found that 37% of firefighters have a sleeping disorder1. 80% of those who had a sleeping disorder had no awareness of the disorder1. This can occur earlier than you think, so consider an evaluation even if you are in your late 20s or 30s.

Sleep studies are covered by insurance. The first session can often be a 30-minute virtual consult, and the overnight study can often be done at home. Some cases may require heading to a lab, which is more like a nice hotel room! Try a Google or ZocDoc search of your area or ask your primary care physician for a referral.


  1. Common Sleep Disorders Increase Risk of Motor Vehicle Crashes and Adverse Health Outcomes in Firefighters Laura K. Barger, PhD, Shantha M.W. Rajaratnam, PhD, Wei Wang, PhD, Conor S. O’Brien, BA, Jason P. Sullivan, BS, Salim Qadri, BS, Steven W. Lockley, PhD, Charles A. Czeisler, PhD, MD, and for the Harvard Work Hours, Health and Safety Group
  2. Roehrs T, Roth T. Sleep, sleepiness, and alcohol use. Alcohol Res Health. 2001;25(2):101-9. PMID: 11584549; PMCID: PMC6707127.
  3. Sharma S, Kavuru M. Sleep and metabolism: an overview. Int J Endocrinol. 2010;2010:270832. doi: 10.1155/2010/270832. Epub 2010 Aug 2. PMID: 20811596; PMCID: PMC2929498.
  4. Should public safety be able to nap on duty?
  5. Summer, J. & Singh, A. (2023). Napping: Benefits and Tips. Sleep Foundation. Retrieved from,without%20entering%20into%20deep%20sleep.
  6. Suni, E. & Vyas, N. (2024). The best foods to help you sleep. Sleep Foundation. Retrieved from
Megan Lautz, MS, RD, CSCS, TSAC-F

Megan is a Registered Dietitian and coach who specializes in firefighter nutrition. Megan’s mission is to help firefighters perform better, recover faster, and enjoy long, healthy retirements. Megan is the owner of RescueRD LLC, which provides nutrition seminars and coaching for tactical athletes across the country. Check out @Rescue.RD on Facebook and Instagram.

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