Veterinarians are subjected to levels of work-related stress comparable to that experienced by other health-professionals (1–7). In addition to the challenges encountered by veterinarians in their everyday work routines, some veterinarians are exposed to additional, exceptionally challenging, work circumstances in relation to sporting events that involve animals, such as, for example, veterinarians working within long-distance sleddog races (e.g., Finnmarksløpet - FL).

The FL is the world's northernmost and Europe’s longest sleddog race, which has been taking place annually since 1981. It is considered one of the most famous and challenging sleddog races, run over three different distances (1200 km, 500 km and 200 km junior) in wild sub-arctic conditions, across the Finnmark region of northern Norway. During activities such as pre-race checks, and then during the race, race-officials, helpers, volunteers and veterinarians work around the clock with tight schedules, indulging themselves in only little and fragmented sleep.The sleep deprivation the veterinarians’ experience during the FL may also pose a challenge for their health. In healthy adults, the sleep-wake cycle normally shows a monophasic structure with one long period of nocturnal sleep, which is strongly related to daily environmental cycles, such as the daily light-dark cycle (10). An alteration of the sleep-wake rhythm induces a reduction of sleep quality resulting in a shorter sleep duration during the night (10). Consequently, not only is an adequate sleep duration important: the time of day when the main sleep period occurs also influences the overall quality and restrictiveness of the sleep (11,12). Prolonged periods of sleep deprivation and/or irregular sleep routines might affect the sleep-wake circadian rhythmicity, thus causing an impoverishment of the sleep quality. Furthermore, the disruption of the sleep-wake circadian rhythm induced by such circumstances can make a subsequent sleep recovery difficult to achieve (8). The stressful working conditions, as well as the reduced amount and quality of the sleep experienced by the veterinarians during the FL may also affect their cardiovascular functions. For instance, it has been demonstrated that insomnia and sleep apnea are associated with an increment in cardiovascular risk and mortality (13,14), while cardiovascular diseases, e.g. congestive heart failure and myocardial infarction, are related to physiological sleep problems (15). This bidirectional relationship found between sleep and cardiovascular response is often related to the fact that the autonomic nervous system (ANS) regulates cardiovascular functions during sleep stages, and consequently its alteration induces sleep disorders. On the other hand, sleep problems such as sleep deprivation affect the normal circadian rhythm of cardiovascular responses (12) and consequently the ANS regulations that may induce altered heart rate (HR) responses (16). As a result of the sleep loss, alongside the work-related stress, the veterinarians working within the FL could be subjected to a higher than normal risk of poor mental and physical health, especially if several of similar events are undertaken during the course of a year or season (9).

The purpose of the Rossi et al. study (21) was to investigate possible alterations of cardiovascular parameters (HR circadian rhythm and HRV) and sleep-wake patterns among female veterinarians working in a long-distance sleddog race (the FL), and evaluate the recovery process of these parameters after completion of the race. A main innovation in this study was the use of a IoT-based wearable devices, which allowed to assess, in ecological conditions, relevant biomarkers of psychological and physical health before, during and after engagement in an exceptionally demanding work period. The main findings of this case study shows the extremely demanding working conditions encountered by the veterinarians within the FL. For about 10 days, the veterinarians were subjected to high degrees of sleep deprivation and stress, which altered the veterinarians’ HRV (expressed as SDNN24), HR circadian rhythm, and sleep-wake patterns. Furthermore, the study indicates that the cardiovascular parameters remained altered for up to a month after completion of the race. The alteration was especially prolonged for the veterinarians’ HRV (expressed as SDNN24), while the profile of their HR circadian rhythm appeared to become restored within about 2 weeks. While the veterinarians returned to (relatively) regular sleep routines within one week after completion of the race, the perceived quality of the sleep appeared to be altered for up to one month. This was corroborated also by a less consistent increase of the number and length of awakening phases.

The period connected to events such as FL can induce acute and long-lasting alterations of cardiovascular parameters and sleep-wake pattern in members of the veterinary team. Veterinarians, as well as other participants in extreme events such as the FL, should be mindful of the risks that strenuous work and prolonged sleep loss can have on their health. The race's organizers may consider promoting more healthy sleep-wake scheduling among the veterinarians and other workers involved in the race through informative campaigns. Monitoring of biomarkers (e.g, HRV and sleep-wake pattern) during and after such events is also recommended among veterinarians, in order to detect possible problems. The knowledge generated by the Rossi et al.’s study (21) increases current understanding of the burden undergone by veterinarians and other participants in events such as the FL, but it is also relevant for other shift workers, such as nurses and other health personnel. All shift workers, including veterinarians, may benefit from educational programs on the risks of prolonged sleep restriction and follow-up interventions in order to ensure full sleep recovery. This may be especially important during the current COVID-19 pandemic, which sees, for example, nurses and medical staff involved in a strenuous effort and chronic sleep deprivation that could jeopardize their general health.


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21. Rossi A, Calogiuri G, Maffi S, Pedreschi D, Clifton DA, Morelli D. Physiological recovery among workers in long-distance sleddog race: a case study on female veterinarians in Finnmarksløpet.

WORK: A Journal of Prevention, Assessment & Rehabilitation. 2021.

Author: Alessio Rossi 

Exploratory: Sport Data Science

Sustainable Goals: Good Health and well-being

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