Welcome to episode 25 of the 911 Shift Ready podcast. Today we are diving into the secret to staying operationally strong and having the endurance to last throughout your career.
Quite often we think of exercise and nutrition in order to stay operationally strong.
We definitely need to give exercise and nutrition the credit that it deserves. Most of you come into your career with some sort of healthier habits. You like to work out, push your body hard and that is what’s gotten you this far.
The thing is there is a difference between being operationally strong and fit for duty.
Pushing really hard allows you to stay strong with the demands of the job physically. In our 911 Elite Performance Program, we have all different kinds of responders, and the physical stressors for fire.
Fire is about a hundred pounds of equipment. Just putting that on and off and getting to a call, cleared or not cleared. And then depending on how long the call lasts physically what you are demanding of your body, thousand percent requires you to be physically strong and active.
EMS. We have something that I had actually not thought of is we have some rural EMS workers. And when you’re rural you may be two hours to and from the hospital. Or to and from calls that if you have a client in crisis where you need to be working on them the entire time, you need to be physically strong in order to be able to last two hours to get to the hospital until you can hand your patient off to the ER.
There’s so many different physical things that you need in order to be fit for duty, in order to stay strong, in order to be able to be quick with your reactions and understand tactically what is required in your position.
Operationally strong, what I’m speaking of is everything operationally that’s thrown at you as far as overtime, mandatory overtime, 24 hour, 48 hour shifts.
We have some that on a regular basis do five days straight, which are the more rural EMS areas. Where the call volume is not higher but there are days. I was just speaking to somebody today who the last three of his five shifts, they had calls in the night. One was a two hour call, another one they had to rush to one of the major hospitals five hours away.
Five hour turnaround to get to the hospital and back. So that was seven hours in the middle of the night that they were pushing hard. And then they did have calls all during the day. So just because it’s a five hour or five day long of 24 hour shift does not mean that it’s go, go, go all the time.
Operationally, you need to have endurance.
Fit for duty is where I’m referring to being physically strong in order to handle what is needing to be handled.
But the endurance is how do you keep up long term?
There’s the difference between how much you can push strength wise in the gym and how much you can go endurance wise.
You cannot lift a very, very heavy weight for 24 hours, for 48 hours, for 96 hours.
There’s a big difference between what you’re doing in the gym and what is going to be required of you to stay operationally strong during these long hours.
Working days, working nights, 12 hour shifts with overtime, back to back 12 hours days going into nights.
There’s so many things operationally that are stressing and fatiguing your body that are very separate from exercise and nutrition.
Which does get us into this question where if exercise and nutrition were the key to staying operationally strong then why do first responders who are living a very healthy lifestyle, who are eating healthy.
Heck. Many of fire guys that I know of are personal trainers. Some even own their own gyms. They eat, sleep and breathe exercise and nutrition.
And some of those guys I also know are burning out. Some are on medical leave.
So if exercise and nutrition were that key to staying operationally strong then why are some of these guys medicaling out?
And that’s where we do need to understand that difference between operationally strong and fit for duty.
Now that we’ve gone into that, what the heck is the solution when we are talking about being operationally strong, having that operational endurance? The biggest thing, there are different factors, but the biggest one that we are going to talk about today is sleep.
Sleep is the best way to make sure that your body recovers for you to stay strong operationally. Hands down. Sleep is when your body recovers.
Slow wave or deep sleep is when your body is recovering. That’s when you’re healing and you’re repairing from the physical demands of your job.
And this doesn’t just mean where you pushed your muscles. This could also physically be working nights, working days, working 24 hour shifts. Your body needs to heal and repair from that physical tax as well.
Now REM sleep is when your mind is healing. It is where your thoughts and your memories are stored. So if there are certain things that happened in a call that you were at, you may need to remember that information for notes for court later on. You may need to just remember the days to days. Writing your reports might start becoming foggier and struggling to remember things.
Your spouse may ask you to do something and you walk out of your room. You’re like, what the heck did they just ask me? That’s what REM sleep does.
REM is the sleep that helps to solidify the cognitive things that did happen in your day.
As well when you’re doing things tactically. So EMS for sure, this is huge for you.
A lot of what you needed to learn in order for it to become automatic when you’re on a call with somebody that is REM sleep. That’s what solidifying all the steps that you need to know for each situation that does arise on the job.
REM and sleep are very, very important as you can see for you to be operationally strong. That’s when your body’s going to heal from being pushed. It’s when your body and your mind is going to process what’s going on.
There are studies out that people are more susceptible to PTSD if they’re not able to process calls.
Not being able to get into REM sleep can actually set you up for PTSD.
For those of you that do know my husband, he did 33 days straight. I’ve heard recently of fire where during COVID they were doing six straight at busy stations, 10 to 15 calls every 24 hours.
And they are back doing that now three years later because they are so short staffed.
We need to figure out beyond exercise and nutrition what tools you can take out in order to become operationally strong.
In order to keep that operational endurance for your body to heal and repair.
Understanding about sleep is the priority.
When you’re not able to heal and repair, get enough deep sleep, get enough REM sleep, your body can’t recover from workouts which are keeping you fit for duty.
Injuries start creeping in. You start getting like strains and they even start taking you out of your workouts, jujitsu, any martial arts that you’re doing, any CrossFit. Anything tactically you’re not able to do it anymore.
You start getting taken out and then you start decreasing your ability to even be fit for duty.
If you’re not getting enough quality sleep it’s tough to stay tactically strong. Your brain cannot process memories. It’s harder to remember, takes you longer to do reports, longer to get through the paperwork that is required in your job as well.
On days off, I know for my husband, when he has not been getting enough of a restorative recovery sleep cause he starts going in circles on his days off. He’s trying to get all of these things done and nothing’s really getting done.
I see that he’s not stopping, he’s just going in circles cause he can’t really process, can’t take things in.
Remembering what’s on calls, problem solving, healing and repairing your body. And prepping your body for the next day is not possible.
And then all of these depletes your ability to really stay strong during these long blocks of shifts, during the mandatory OT. And when you have frequent or long operations or you are in a specialized unit and you need to stay on top of your game.
If you are not getting into proper sleep stages and giving your body what it needs then you are not able to maintain that operational endurance long term through repeated OT, through repeated operations.
And that’s what we do in our 911 Elite Performance Program. It is actually one of the first things that we dive into is sleep because of how important it is and how much of an impact it has on all of you in your performance and recovery.
We dive into things beyond being fit for duty beyond exercise and nutrition. So We do start with sleep. Making sure that we maximize the quality of your sleep so that you are able to recover and push through what is asked of you each and every shift.
If you do want to learn more about our 911 Elite Performance Program, you can email support@911Lifestyle.com and put the word sleep.
I’ll reply back to you personally with questions about your sleep, sleep habits, so that we can see if what we do will benefit you so that you can stay strong through your shifts when you don’t have time to sleep.
So the big question though, you’re saying is, okay, that’s great sleep.
I get it. Sleep is important for operational endurance.
But how do you maximize sleep when you’re working shifts night and day? When you’re working 24 hours, you’re working all this OT, 48s, 96s a 144s. When you are working these shifts, when you’re doing 33 days straight and you do not have time.
My husband, when he did those 33 days, he averaged 18 hours for those 33 days. So that only left him six hours to get home, shower, say hi to us, get some food in him and sleep.
And then he had still to wake up, get his food prepped for the next shift, and get to work in six hours.
So how in the heck do you make sure that you are getting the sleep that you need, that you require when there is so much operational stress, operational working time required of you, especially right now in your career?
The first thing is that we need to stop thinking in the box. We need to stop thinking about the tools that work for a civilian and we need to start thinking about the tools that will work for you.
As civilian, what they do is when the sun rises, it signals their natural waking hormones start kicking in, doing what they need to do in the day. And when the sun is setting is when their sleep hormones start kicking in. And that’s that whole cascade getting you into the deep sleep and that REM sleep.
That’s not going to work for you guys.
Overtime is going to happen. Sleeping days and nights is going to happen. Being woken up in the middle of your sleep. If you are at a station doing 24 hour shifts, 48s you’re doing 144 hours and you have 10 to 15 calls a day, there’s no way. No way that you can get eight hours of sleep.
We need to start really thinking outside of the box, what can we do with the amount of sleep that you do get during operations? And what can we do after?
When we are thinking like the civilian, when we’re not thinking outside of the box then it is hard to figure out these solutions.
We are fighting with the sun and when it’s rising and when it’s setting.
And you start waking up more and more exhausted.
Start struggling to fall asleep or waking mid sleep or you may be sleeping okay but you’re still waking up exhausted cause your body’s not getting into that really good, deep or restorative sleep.
You may be okay on some shifts but it gets near the end of that block that it starts hitting you.
Making sure that we’re thinking outside of the box.
Now, normal eight hours of sleep, waking and sleeping with the sun, what happens there is that the sleep hormones kick in at night and this whole cascade the memory, cognitive thinking, healing, repairing, detoxing your body, all of these, there’s 50. 50 hormones that are released that helps serotonin. That is in your gut is released as well, which is your happy feel, good anti-anxiety hormone.
All of these start kicking in when you’re getting into that proper sleep and then you start getting into this deep sleep. So the first half to two thirds of your sleep is deep. And the last two thirds to the last like half of your sleep is REM. So the middle, it starts like switching between REM and deep. The beginning is deep. Your body really needs to repair.
And the thing is that if you get woken up before you start getting into that REM pattern then you’re not able to start cognitively healing and repairing as well. So that’s what happens when you’re starting to get shorter sleep abouts. So we need to start thinking of patterns for you.
How do we start getting into what can we strategically be doing to get you into the proper deep sleep to start getting some of your REM sleep back? What do we do with different shifts if you’re working days, nights, first, second, third shift, evenings? Police, you guys call them all different shifts, swing shifts. There’s so many different shift styles and shifts. Two days. Two nights, all of one. It’s all over the map.
We need to really look at what your shift schedule is and start giving you the proper tools to be able to use it. When you’re on a 24 hour shift, it’s actually easier to be working with the sun rise and sunset because it is 24 hours. So you are usually trying to sleep that night. Although it depends on your call volume of your shifts.
There are little tricks that we need to do based on your shift schedule based on what is happening for you. And based on if you’re in special projects operations or there’s short staffing going on we need to be adjusting and adapting based on what is happening in your shifts.
We need tools that will signal your sleep hormone to kick in. And I mean your natural sleep hormone not signaling you to fall asleep. We need to actually signal your sleep hormone to kick in because when your natural sleep hormone kicks in your melatonin, it starts this cascade effect of the other hormones kicking in.
So if you’re having too much synthetic serotonin or you’re using something else to be falling asleep that is not sending a signal for your natural melatonin to kick in then these other hormones don’t know they’re supposed to do their job as well, so we need tools for that. We need tools to help you improve your deep sleep so that your body can heal and repair even if you have a short sleep cycle, so there’s things that we can do.
Will you get the same amount of deep sleep that you would in eight hours? You won’t get the total time but our goal is to get you the same percentage of deep sleep in your sleep cycle. So what I mean by that is if you averages 15 to 20% is what you should get of deep sleep in your sleep cycle of an eight hour sleep.
So if you’re sleeping for two hours as you’re sleeping for six, our goal is to try to get you 15 to 20% of deep sleep as best as we can. Then we need tools to understand how to grab more deep sleep in between calls when it’s possible, anytime, day and night. There are specific strategies to actually get you more deep sleep and there’s strategies to get you more REM sleep. What is needed to stay asleep without medication or prescriptions so that you can get into a proper sleep cycle?
So there are strategies. I mean, when you’re working at the station, you can’t take sleeping pill cause you need to be alert for a call. But what can you take to and sleeping pills don’t signal your natural hormones and things. So what tools can we do to signal that natural sleep hormone that if call comes, you can get up and start your day as well.
So essentially you really do need to know how to maximize any amount of sleep, be it one hour or less. If you’re napping in the day and you only have 20 minutes, how can we maximize that 20 minutes up to eight hours? We need to figure out how to maximize it days and nights and to adapt it when your sleep is interrupted so that your body can really heal and repair as much as possible as it can on shift.
Is it going to be perfect? No. Will you get tired pushing in long blocks of shifts, even with these strategies? Most likely. But you will be better off. Your body will be more succinct and ready to then recover when that push is over. And you’ll use some of those tools but you’ll also adapt then bring in some other tools on your days off or when that operational endurance is able to have a bit of a break so you can recover quick and be ready to heal and repair for the next operation that’s thrown at you.
If you think about it, we’ve got Jocko Willink, David Goggins, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman. They all make sleep a priority. And when they’re talking about staying operationally strong throughout your career, they bring sleep into the equation. Their restorative time, their recovery time is just as important as the push. So as we said, exercise is important but if you miss this piece as well then the exercise can’t benefit you as much as you need to stay fit for duty. The restorative time is going to help you with the operational endurance.
Athletes, pull out so many tools when they are competing in different time zones in order to make sure that their sleep does stay on track as they know that sleep it could mean the difference between a gold or silver or getting on the podium or not being on the podium.
I always think of you guys as tactical athletes.
What is required of you as a first responder is more than professional athletes. It’s not like you have Sunday game day or you know when each competition is scheduled in and you can have your rest and recovery and everything all scheduled out.
You need to have tools that you can take out so that you can peak anytime day or night when duty calls.
And if you are not using the proper tools specific for first responders, specific for working shifts, being awake in the day or the night working special operations.
If you are continuing to use strategies that work for civilians where you’re using the sun to wake with the sun fall asleep with the sun then your body won’t heal and repair.
You may sleep in between operations or when you’re able to but you’re not going to get the proper deep and REM sleep.
Your mind will become less focused and sharp. You’re going to be more and more tired. Repetitive strain injuries might start kicking in. Some gas or indigestion might really start bothering you.
You may not be able to digest meat, raw veggies the way that you used to. These small little things might just be happening in your body that start setting other things off.
And you’re less able to handle and recover from the extra hours and mandatory OT. Your operational endurance decreases and it makes it harder to recover quickly between these blocks of shifts and quickly after.
You don’t know when the next one is going to be thrown at you. The tools you need to make sure your sleep is on track as best as possible during shift and as soon as your shift is over is exactly what we teach in the 911 Elite Performance Program.
If you would like to learn more about 911 Elite Performance and we’ll ask you some questions about your sleep. Talk about your sleep habits, really find out if you are a candidate for best results in our program.
All right, so let’s recap what we went over today. There is a big difference between operational endurance and being fit for duty.
Fit for duty requires exercise. It requires the nutrition to stay fit for duty.
Operational endurance. The key one that we spoke about today is sleep. Our bodies are designed to actually sleep and wake with the sun and that’s how civilian lives.
That’s how civilian works their sleep cycles. But when you’re working shift work, when you are a first responder, these need other cues, other tools than the sun in order to know when to sleep and wake and get into that really good deep and REM restorative sleeps.
When you can’t get eight hours of sleep because of mandatory OT or special operations or even a regular shift schedule where you’re working nights and days all over the place, it is important to know how to maximize your sleep, what tools to take out during operations, post recovery, so that you are getting the most deep and the most REM possible. And then you can recover quickly after so that you’re ready for the next operational stress that is thrown at you.
That is what we teach in 911 Elite Performance. Again, if you would like to find out more about if 911 Elite Performance is for you, if you are a candidate for results, email us with the word sleep to support@911Lifestyle.com and I will personally reply back to you and start a conversation with you to find out more about your habits, where you’re at, what you’re doing, to find out if you will get results in our program and if it is the right fit for you.
Again, that’s support@911Lifestyle.com and I will see you in the next episode.