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University of Iowa

Police Officers Could Improve Their Health, Work Performance by Catching More Zs

Police officers who don’t get enough sleep – particularly those who work the night shift – may be at a higher risk of developing serious health problems.

In addition to facing criminals, stress and danger in the line of duty, police officers also may be at risk of not getting enough sleep, which could lead to health problems including heart disease, obesity or diabetes, a new study suggests.

Police who work the evening or night shifts particularly are at risk of getting inadequate sleep, according to researchers at the University of Iowa (UI), who authored the study “The Effect of Work Shift and Sleep Duration on Various Aspects of Police Officers' Health." The study results reveal 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 subjected to more back-to-back shifts, which exacerbated their sleep deficit.

“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.

Overall, researchers found, police offers who sleep fewer than 6 hours a night are more susceptible to chronic fatigue and health problems, such as being overweight or obese and contracting diabetes or heart disease. In addition, inadequate sleep also could impact officers’ ability to do their jobs and therefore could create public safety implications

“The good news is this is correctable,” Ramey added. “There are approaches we can take to break the cascade of poor sleep for police officers.”

Sleep: Quality and Quantity

The researchers recommended 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. The UI team suggested change the morning time that evening or night-shift officers may need to appear in court, to ensure that they get full rest. They also recommended that law enforcement and nurses partner more closely, to encourage officers to get 7-8 hours of sleep per night.

The researchers surveyed 85 male police officers ranging in age from 22 to 63 years old from three police departments in eastern Iowa. 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 on average 46 hours per week, were queried 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 6 hours of sleep, the researchers also found that police who slept fewer than 6 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 researchers, however, did not find a strong tie between lack of sleep and the onset of health complications, although they acknowledged that a larger statistical sample may be needed to more fully understand the relationship.

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