Sleep Needed By Police Officers For Performance And Health Issues
July 18, 2012

Sleep Needed By Police Officers For Performance And Health Issues

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Forget bad guys and guns: Being a police officer can be hazardous to your health in so many different ways.

Researchers at the University of Iowa have found that police officers who slept for fewer than six hours per night are more susceptible to chronic fatigue and health problems, such as being overweight and contracting heart disease and diabetes. The study found that officers working the evening or night shifts were 14 times more likely to get less restful sleep than day-shift officers, and also were on duty for more back-to-back shifts, making their sleep deficit even worse.

The study is the first peer-reviewed look at differences in duration and quality of sleep in relation to shift work and health risks in police departments, the authors noted.

“This study further confirmed the impact of shift work on law enforcement officers and the importance of sleep as a modifiable risk factor for police,” wrote Sandra Ramey, assistant professor in the College of Nursing at the UI and the lead author on the paper published in Workplace Health & Safety. “The good news is this is correctable. There are approaches we can take to break the cascade of poor sleep for police officers.”

The research is important because getting fewer than six hours of sleep could affect officers' ability to do their jobs and affects public safety. It also boosts the risk for health problems, which could affect staffing and could lead to higher health costs passed onto taxpayers.

The researchers recommend putting practices in place to ensure officers get proper sleep. For example, 83 percent of police on the evening or night shift reported having to report to duty early the next morning at least occasionally. One idea from the UI team is to change the morning time that evening or night-shift officers may need to appear in court, to ensure that they get full rest. It is recommended to partner officers and nurses more closely to encourage 7-8 hours of sleep per night.

The researchers surveyed 85 male police officers from three police departments in eastern Iowa ranging from 22 to 63 years old. The respondents were equally divided between those who worked the day shift and those who worked the evening or night shifts. The officers, who worked an average of 46 hours per week, were questioned on their levels of stress and fatigue, while their height, weight, and C-reactive protein levels (marks inflammation levels in the blood) were measured.

While officers working the evening or night shifts were more likely to get fewer than six hours of sleep, the researchers also found that police who slept fewer than six hours were twice as likely to sleep poorly. That finding is important, because poor sleep can lead to “vital exhaustion,” or chronic fatigue, the authors noted which can trigger additional health problems.

The UI study builds on other studies that show a possible link between sleep deprivation and ill health and chronic fatigue in police officers. “This finding is supported by other studies that suggested poor sleep and short sleep (with resultant fatigue) may be related to psychological stress,” they wrote.

Surprisingly, the researchers did not find a strong tie between the onset of health complications and lack of sleep, although they said a larger statistical sample may be needed to more fully understand the relationship.