The experience and management of sleep inertia in Australian volunteer firefighters

Katya Kovac, Sally A. Ferguson, Grace E. Vincent, Jessica L. Paterson

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Objective: To determine how firefighters experience and manage sleep inertia (the state of impaired alertness and performance upon waking) during night calls. 

Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with sixteen volunteer firefighters. Firefighters were asked about their experiences of sleep inertia and what strategies they use to manage sleep inertia when waking and responding to night calls.

Results: Firefighters perceive that the duration and risk of sleep inertia is less than what is commonly espoused in the literature. This presents a potential barrier to implementing sleep inertia countermeasures in this cohort. However, firefighters informally managed sleep inertia directly and indirectly. Several deliberate strategies to directly reduce sleep inertia (e.g., running to and from their car), and indirect strategies to manage the impact of sleep inertia (e.g., risk assessments) emerged. Moreover, it was identified that various aspects of the firefighting role have the potential to reduce sleep inertia through multifactorial physical and mental stimulation (e.g., through waking to the pager alarm and the cognitive demand of firefighting tasks). 

Conclusions: The firefighting role can be inherently stimulating and has the potential to reduce the severity of sleep inertia for firefighters waking and responding to night calls. Regardless, informal strategies to manage sleep inertia could be incorporated into formal education procedures of organisations to improve the safety of firefighters. 

Relevance to industry: Informal sleep inertia management strategies could be formalised to help educate less experienced firefighters on how to manage night-time calls and improve the safety of personnel in the firefighting industry.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103340
Number of pages9
Early online date5 Aug 2022
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2022


  • Emergency services
  • On-call
  • Risk management
  • Safety behavior
  • Sleep inertia countermeasures


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