By: Jon Vought
We can’t help what happens to our sleep on shift. It’s what we signed up for. Poor sleep causes a myriad of health issues as we all know, and there’s a lack of healthy options for treating these sleep issues. Could there be a natural solution?
I want the Fire Service to take a hard look at holistic solutions for naturally improving our sleep.
A study out of Harvard that’s cited often shows 37% of the roughly 7,000 firefighters screened were diagnosed with a sleep disorder. That’s a big deal for us, because lack of sleep is linked to a 29% increase in cardiac disease and all cause mortality. I don’t have to spend a lot of time discussing how bad lack of sleep is. There are plenty of excellent and really well-written articles that do that. What are we going to do about it?
What will your doctor recommend if you tell him or her you can’t sleep well? Will they tell you to try to naturally improve your circadian rhythm and recommend a course of action to do so? Or will you get prescribed a drug with a laundry list of side effects? I’m afraid I’ve seen the latter, but the former just doesn’t happen nationwide.
Healthy body, healthy sleep
Obviously, the basics have to be addressed first. You need to eat well and get regular exercise. That’s from the mouths of every sleep expert I’ve ever read. The best thing to correct our circadian rhythm is how and when we expose our eyes to light. It’s known as a zeitgeber. It tells your brain when it’s time to be active and awake, and when it’s time to be tired and go to sleep. Morning light and twilight are the most critical for setting this internal clock, so in addition to taking care of your physical self, getting outside during these periods of the day, without sunglasses, are paramount. But that also means that after 10pm you should be stopping all screen time as well. Staring at our devices and TVs after this hour tells our brain that it’s light outside. When you’re off duty and you’re trying to correct your sleep, looking at these screens after 10pm is like pouring fuel on an insomnia-causing fire.
The Endocannabinoid System (ECS)
Another important body system to address is one that regulates our sleep: the endocannabinoid system. Endocannabinoids are neurotransmitters the body naturally produces – named after compounds found in hemp and marijuana plants called: cannabinoids. CBD and THC are the two most common (and popular) cannabinoids. (THC is the cannabinoid that causes the feeling of being high, while CBD is non-intoxicating). These naturally-occurring cannabinoids are at their peak concentrations when we’re sleeping. And the opposite is true too. If you’re sleep deprived, your levels of endocannabinoids might be very low. The ECS plays a role in setting what’s known as “the master clock” of the sleep/wake cycle in your brain.
This, in my opinion, is one of the most significant findings we may discover with CBD as it pertains to sleep.
This new study is saying that levels of endocannabinoids play a role in setting your circadian rhythm. If nothing else, it warrants a really in-depth look at how cannabinoids like CBD could help correct a dysfunctional circadian rhythm. In animal studies, endocannabinoids cause deeper bouts of certain phases of REM sleep. All of these studies are pointing in a general direction that cannabinoids like CBD are directly related to quality of sleep and that a lack of endocannabinoids occurs when sleep deprivation is present. It seems very obvious to me that we have to look into this further.
So why haven’t we?
In the United States, CBD was always considered marijuana up until the end of 2018. The US Farm Bill of 2018 legalized CBD and other compounds derived from the hemp plant and defined hemp as different from marijuana. That’s the root of two problems: the US Fire Service generally sees CBD as “weed” and that it’s “for stoners” or an excuse to start smoking pot. The other problem is that CBD has been very difficult to study because it’s been illegal up until recently.
What’s the excuse now?
Firefighters might be worried they’ll lose their jobs if they fail a drug test and rightly so. Rescue 1 CBD has solved that problem by creating a product that has 0.000% THC. The metabolites that cause a failed drug test won’t be present in your products at all. We’ve been sending at-home drug test kits to our customers with every order for years.
Studies for CBD and sleep are still coming out. Most articles I’ve cited are relatively new. Sleep experts like Dr. Matt Walker and Andrew Huberman only highlighted the benefits of CBD for sleep in 2021. I don’t think we should ignore that data. I think we should double-down on it because, in my opinion, the safety profile of it is absolutely worth it.
Jon Vought is a firefighter/paramedic on the job in South Florida who currently holds the rank of Lieutenant with 13 years of experience. He started Rescue 1 CBD in 2020 on a mission to bring CBD into the mainstream of the US Fire Service.
Light and chronobiology: implications for health and disease (Munch et al.,2012)
 Cannabinoids, Endocannabinoids and Sleep (Kessner et al. NIH 2020)
 Endocannabinoid signalling: has it got rhythm? (Vaughn et al., 2010)
Endocannabinoid Signaling Regulates Sleep Stability (Pava et al., 2016)
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