OBJECTIVES: To examine the effects of sleep restriction on firefighters' physical task performance during simulated wildfire suppression. METHODS: Thirty-five firefighters were matched and randomly allocated to either a control condition (8-hour sleep opportunity, n = 18) or a sleep restricted condition (4-hour sleep opportunity, n = 17). Performance on physical work tasks was evaluated across three days. In addition, heart rate, core temperature, and worker activity were measured continuously. Rate of perceived and exertion and effort sensation were evaluated during the physical work periods. RESULTS: There were no differences between the sleep-restricted and control groups in firefighters' task performance, heart rate, core temperature, or perceptual responses during self-paced simulated firefighting work tasks. However, the sleep-restricted group were less active during periods of non-physical work compared to the control group. CONCLUSIONS: Under self-paced work conditions, 4 h of sleep restriction did not adversely affect firefighters' performance on physical work tasks. However, the sleep-restricted group were less physically active throughout the simulation. This may indicate that sleep-restricted participants adapted their behaviour to conserve effort during rest periods, to subsequently ensure they were able to maintain performance during the firefighter work tasks. This work contributes new knowledge to inform fire agencies of firefighters' operational capabilities when their sleep is restricted during multi-day wildfire events. The work also highlights the need for further research to explore how sleep restriction affects physical performance during tasks of varying duration, intensity, and complexity.
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