New research confirms that being a police officer (or a fire fighter) is dangerous work. However, the rationale behind the new finding may be a surprise.
Investigators discovered a lack of sleep affects the ability of the individual to do their job and increases the risk for health problems.
In the study, researchers at the University of Iowa discovered police officers who sleep fewer than six hours per night are more susceptible to chronic fatigue and health problems.
Health issues included being overweight or obese, and contracting diabetes or heart disease.
Investigators also 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 subjected to more back-to-back shifts, exacerbating 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.
“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, which could affect public safety. It also boosts the risk for health problems, which could affect staffing and could lead to higher health costs borne by taxpayers.
Study findings are published in the journal Workplace Health & Safety.
As a result of the findings, 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 suggestion 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.
They also recommend that law enforcement personnel work more closely with nurses to encourage officers to get 7-8 hours of sleep per night.
In the study, 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.
Researchers discovered that officers working the evening or night shifts were more likely to get fewer than six hours of sleep. Furthermore, investigators determined that police who slept fewer than six hours were twice as likely to sleep poorly.
Investigators believe this insight is important, because poor sleep can lead to “vital exhaustion,” or chronic fatigue, which can trigger additional health problems.
The 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.
One surprise was the failure to discover a strong tie between lack of sleep and the onset of health complications, although researchers say a larger statistical sample is needed to more fully understand the relationship.
Source: University of Iowa