By Matthew Loux, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice at American Military University
Sleeping is one of the most important ways to recover from strenuous police work. By sleeping at night, the body is in a natural resting and rejuvenating phase and the mind goes through a cleansing shift as well.
Many Officers Suffer from Sleep Disorders
The National Institute of Health (NIH) reported some important findings concerning police officer wellness as it relates to sleep disorders and shift work. Those findings include:
- Sleep disorders are twice as prevalent in officers compared to the general public, with sleep apnea the most notable sleep disorder.
- Over 40 percent of officers have at least one sleep disorder.
- Officers assigned to 10-hour shifts get more sleep than those working eight-hour shifts. The officers working 10-hour shifts also worked less overtime and had an improved quality of work-life balance.
- Officers working 12-hour shifts had increased levels of sleepiness and lower levels of alertness.
Benefits of Regular Sleep
Sleeping is extremely important for maintaining health. It heals and repairs the heart and blood vessels. Not getting enough sleep increases the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney problems and strokes.
Continuous work without sufficient sleep has long-term health effects that often go unnoticed. The cognitive part of the brain is affected in many ways, including impaired attention spans and a lack of alertness, as well as poor concentration, reasoning and problem-solving skills.
Many Officers Experience Problems in Getting a Full Night’s Sleep
In law enforcement, it is very important for officers to get sufficient rest so they can perform at an optimal level. But it is often difficult for many officers to get a full night’s sleep due to rotating shifts, overtime, caffeine, stress and poor eating habits.
[Related: Be Ready to Respond by Combating Fatigue]
Some of the best methods to get quality sleep include:
- Reducing or eliminating caffeine, especially at the end of a shift.
- Reducing the consumption of sugary foods and incorporating healthier alternatives such as fruits, vegetables and protein shakes.
- Reducing daily stress through fitness training, especially after a shift.
Some studies say exhaustive exercise reduces the ability to sleep, but I find it helps me relax and fall asleep faster.
Journaling and Meditation Are Other Useful Sleep Aids
Another sleep aid that officers can use to get quality rest is to write a journal. I keep a journal and write down many things, especially what I have to do when I wake up. Writing in a journal clears the mind. It also reduces stressful thoughts that constantly run through the mind, interfering with quality sleep.
[Related: How Meditation Can Improve Mental Fitness]
Similarly, meditation to clear the mind is also helpful. I try to meditate about 15 minutes right before bed. A Harvard study found that meditation helps reduce insomnia and improve sleep.
Incorporate Naps into Off-Duty Time to Rejuvenate the Body and Mind
Some studies have shown that napping leads to subjective and behavioral improvements. Napping also improves sleepiness and lessens mood swings. Although police officers cannot take naps while on duty, incorporating a nap into an off-duty regime can be beneficial.
Even a 20-minute nap recharges the body and mind, fostering better performance during a shift. Naps later in the day when you are not working create a more wakeful state for the rest of a shift.
The nap times vary depending on your shift schedule. Memory gain is another beneficial result of quick naps.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, men and women between 26 and 64 years of age should have approximately seven to nine hours of sleep a night. The benefit of sleeping for the suggested amount of time allows the body to control leptin and ghrelin to successfully maintain or even lose weight at night.
For the best overall performance on the job, quality sleep is a must. Shift work is difficult enough; police officers owe it to themselves and to the public they protect to be physically fit and mentally sharp.
About the Author: Matthew Loux has been in law enforcement for more than 20 years and has a background in fraud and criminal investigation, as well as hospital, school and network security. Matt has researched and studied law enforcement and security best practices for the past 10 years. To contact him, email IPSauthor@apus.edu. For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.
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