The Most Underestimated Hazard of Police Work

Sleep deprivation has measurable negative effects which can compromise your safety, job performance, interpersonal relationships, and physical/ mental health.


Maintain regular eating patterns as much as possible. Eat smaller portions throughout the day instead of three large meals, to avoid heartburn and other stomach problems. Drink lots of water and eat the usual balance of vegetables, fruit, lean meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, grains and bread. Going to bed hungry can be just as disruptive to sleep as going to bed too full; eat a light snack. Restrict your fluids before bedtime to help promote an uninterrupted night's sleep. Skip the nightcap. While alcohol may speed the beginning of sleep, it actually increases the number of times you awaken in the later half of the night.

Set up a schedule that will allow you to spend some time with your loved ones, such as maintaining at least one family meal together. Remember that sleep loss can cause you to feel at odds with the rest of the world, making you irritable, stressed and depressed. Blame the shift work, not your kids. Do not neglect friendships, social activities, exercise or hobbies. Take your leisure time seriously.

Many factors can prevent you from getting the most of your sleep time. Noises at levels as low as 40 decibels can keep you awake. Try to block out unwanted sounds with earplugs, or use "white noise" such as a fan or an air conditioner, unplug the phone, lower the doorbell ring, install carpeting and double-pane windows and drapes to absorb sound.

At bedtime, think dark. Try light-blocking curtains, drapes or an eye mask. Also, make sure to avoid or minimize light if you wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. The cause of frequent or early waking may actually be too little exposure to sunlight during the day. Find time for two hours of sunlight daily, or purchase a light box.

Temperatures above 75°F and below 54°F, as well as extremes in humidity, will disrupt sleep. In general, most sleep scientists believe that a slightly cool room that is neither too dry nor too moist contributes to good sleep.

Old mattresses can impede sleep and cause back pain. Pillows hold dust mite fecal matter and thousands of fungal spores, which can trigger allergies and compromise your immune system. It may be time to buy new sleeping surfaces.

The bedroom should only be used for sleep and sex; turn off televisions. Give yourself enough space to sleep. Bed partners with sleep disorders, as well as cuddly pets, can negatively affect your sleep. If you do not fall asleep within 15 minutes, get out of bed. When you are sleepy, go back to bed.

Find and keep a bedtime ritual that is right for you. Determine what works to help you fall and stay asleep: gentle music lull you to sleep, a soak in a warm bath or hot tub, cozy pajamas, cuddling with your partner, progressive relaxation techniques, walked imagery, meditation or a prayer.

If you are sleepy when your shift is over, try to take a nap before driving home. Avoid long commutes; they use up valuable time that could be spent sleeping. Whenever possible, avoid extended work hours, including excessive overtime.

There is no magic cure for SWSD. The best advice is to try the above-mentioned tips to prevent and recuperate from sleep deprivation. Work with your supervisor if SWSD is having a prolonged and/or negative effect on your life, health and happiness. Also, talk to your physician about your symptoms. Modafinil (used to treat narcolepsy) has been shown to improve vigilance to a limited extent in night shift workers. Antidepressants, which are used in the treatment of various sleep disorders, positively affect and can sometimes readjust circadian rhythms. Over-the-counter Melatonin, a sleep rhythm aid, may help modify an adjustment to new sleep schedules, especially when combined with strategic light and darkness exposure. Sedatives, hypnotics and tranquilizers can be prescribed by a physician to promote sleep, but require you have seven to eight hours to devote to sleep. These medications can be addictive and may be against department policy. If you still have problems, consider consulting with a sleep specialist. If all else fails, it may be time to transfer to a position within your department that requires day hours only.

Tips for Law Enforcement Agencies

Increasingly, the courts are laying the blame for accidents and poor health on employers, stating they have a duty of care to employees. There are two basic levels where improvements can be made to help shift workers: organizationally and individually.

  1. The most effective way of reducing health and safety problems for employees is to optimize the design of the shift schedule.
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