The Importance of Sleep to Police Officers

As a Cop, Do You Get Enough Sleep?

The issues of fatigue and poor sleep quality are become more and more important to effective law enforcement management.  Police managers, supervisors and officers, need to be aware of the issues and liabilities that surround officers who are fatigued at work, and how that might affect their job performance.  Individual officers need to be responsible for insuring that they are properly rested and ready for work.  Effective stress management and proper sleep habits work hand in hand and law enforcement professional need to know how to care for themselves as well as they care for their communities.

In his article “Sleep Deprivation: What Does It Mean for Public Safety Officers?”, written for the National Institute of Justice Office of Justice Programs, Brian Vila, Ph.D. cited that
“More than 90 percent report being routinely fatigued, and 85 percent report driving while drowsy.”  He also suggested that “Sleep deprivation is dangerous. Researchers have shown that being awake for 19 hours produces impairments that are comparable to… having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .05 percent. Being awake for 24 hours is comparable to having a BAC of roughly .10 percent. This means that in just five hours — the difference between going without sleep for 19 hours versus 24 hours”

In another study cited by National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center
Dr. Vila a former cop and professor of criminal justice at Washington State University Spokane and director of the Critical Job Tasks Simulation Laboratory in the Sleep and Performance Research Center found that “Fifty-three percent of law enforcement officers average less than 6.5 hours of sleep daily.”

A study by San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center researchers found that “although only seven percent of officers are currently reporting significant problems with PTSD symptoms, more than 45 percent of police officers reported sleep disturbances typical of patients in insomnia clinics”

In February 2011 two officers in Quebec were filmed allegedly while sleeping in their patrol car.  CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE. or CLICK HERE for the article in the Toronto Sun.

More recently a Cedar Rapids officer was allegedly photographed  in May 2011 sleeping in his patrol car.  CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE

In July of 2001 The Police Policy Studies Council said “Sleep Deprivation: ‘Public Enemy Number 1’ for Cops”

Officer fatigue might be created by lack of enough sleep, poor sleep quality or even sleep disorders.

One contributing factor to officer fatigue could be the need to have someone working 24 hours a day.  Shift work, or working at times when our biological clocks think it’s time to be asleep, is tough on the body.  Our system of rotating officers to different shifts also messes with our circadian rhythms.  Lots of Cops and other people work odd shift hours and this is one component of not getting enough rest that can create a cycle of fatigue.

According to an article by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, entitled “Understanding Sleep”: “Symptoms much like jet lag are common in people who work nights or who perform shift work. Because these people’s work schedules are at odds with powerful sleep-regulating cues like sunlight, they often become uncontrollably drowsy during work, and they may suffer insomnia or other problems when they try to sleep. Shift workers have an increased risk of heart problems, digestive disturbances, and emotional and mental problems, all of which may be related to their sleeping problems. The number and severity of workplace accidents also tend to increase during the night shift. Major industrial accidents attributed partly to errors made by fatigued night-shift workers include the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl nuclear power plant accidents. One study also found that medical interns working on the night shift are twice as likely as others to misinterpret hospital test records, which could endanger their patients. It may be possible to reduce shift-related fatigue by using bright lights in the workplace, minimizing shift changes, and taking scheduled naps.”

I was recently invited to be part of a focus group of industry experts to discuss the issues faced by those who work shifts and the complications of shift work disorder.  The focus group was sponsored by Cephalon the International bio-pharmaceutical company and organized

One of the experts hired by The Wake Up Squad was Dr. Mary Umlauf who agreed to be interviewed by about the issues surrounding sleep problems and shift work disorder.

Dr Mary Umlauf, a well-respected sleep researcher and nursing professor from the University of Alabama, Capstone College of Nursing, is the Chair of a national educational initiative called The Wake Up Squad which is sponsored by Cephalon.  She was invited by as our guest to be a content expert on sleep and shift work disorder, and to discuss with us the science behind sleep and sleep disorders.  She also talked about the health implications of insufficient sleep and the importance of Sleep Hygiene.

You can listen to our 52 minute interview here:

Or you can download the 13 MB mp3 file by RIGHT CLICK HERE to download (that’s CONTROL CLICK if you use a Mac then SAVE LINK AS…) a copy of the mp3 file.

The Wake Up Squad Web site, provides a discussion about Shift Work Disorder and “a resource for people to learn more about this important and often under-recognized medical condition. Shift work disorder is a condition that occurs when your body’s circadian rhythm or clock is out of sync with your work schedule. This disturbance can lead to excessive sleepiness during waking hours or insomnia, trouble sleeping during sleeping hours.”

Dr. Umlauf provided this quick list of suggestions and also provided a longer handout on Sleep and Survival that you can download by CLICKING HERE.

1.    First and foremost, protect your need and right to sleep!
2.    Ensure adequate time in bed, free from interruptions and demands.*
3.    Keep regular sleep habits!
4.    Avoid vigorous exercise shortly before retiring.
5.    Avoid napping to protect your main sleep time.
6.    The bed should be used for sleep and sex — not for reading, TV, or computer work.
7.    Avoid large meals and excessive fluid intake before your scheduled sleep.
8.    Avoid caffeine and smoking prior to retiring
9.    Make sure that your sleeping area is conducive to good sleep: cool, quiet (earplugs), and dark (use a mask or room darkening shades on windows).
10. Avoid medications that can interfere with either sleep or alertness.**
* Most adults require 7.5-8 hours. Teenagers and children require even more sleep! The same applies to night shift workers! They may feel guilty if they do not get up after four hours to run errands, to do tasks around the house, or to let a repairman come in to fix something in the home. But…what would be the response if that same repairman were to insist that a day shift worker get up to let him in at 2 a.m.? Night shift work should not deprive one of basic rights and human necessities.
**Discuss everything that you are taking (including nonprescription items) with your doctor or pharmacist. Of course, do not discontinue prescribed drugs without the approval and awareness of the physician who prescribed them.

Here are 4 websites recommended by Dr. Umlauf and The Wake Up Squad:

National Sleep Foundation

The Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation

American Academy of Sleep Medicine:

Talk About Sleep:

For more information read our previous article entitled: The Impact of Poor Quality Sleep on Police Officers at:

One of the many factors in becoming a true professional in law enforcement is learning how best to take care of yourself so that you will be at your best to take care of those who need you.

We will help your agency create the kind of place that supports and protects officers so that they can do their jobs better, safer, longer and survive to tell their grand kids all about it.

CopsAlive is written to prompt discussions within our profession about the issues we cover on this blog site.  We invite you to share your opinions in the Comment Box that is at the bottom of this article. was founded to provide information and strategies to help police officers successfully survive their careers.  We help law enforcement officers and their agencies prepare for the risks that threaten their existence.

We do this by Helping Law Enforcement professionals plan for happy, healthy and successful lives on the job and beyond.  We think the best strategy is for each officer to create a tactical plan for their own life and career.

The Law Enforcement Survival Institute (LESI) works with individuals and organizations to help them create and sustain success in their lives and careers as law enforcement professionals.  It is the primary goal of The Law Enforcement Survival Institute to become the preeminent source for training, resources and information about how to create and sustain a happy, healthy and successful life and career while providing superior law enforcement service to your community.

At The Law Enforcement Survival Institute we train law enforcement officers to cope with stress and manage all the toxic effects and hidden dangers of a career in law enforcement.

CLICK HERE if you would like to contact us to learn more about training for your organization.

I’m John Marx Founder of The Law Enforcement Survival Institute and the Editor of, connect with me on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter

About Editor

John Marx was a Police Officer for twenty-three years and served as a Hostage Negotiator for nineteen of those years. He worked as a patrol officer, media liaison officer, crime prevention officer and burglary detective. Also during his career he served as administrator of his city's Community Oriented Governance initiative through the police department's Community Policing project. Today John combines his skills to consult with businesses about improving both their security and their customer service programs. John retired from law enforcement in 2002. When one of his friends, also a former police officer, committed suicide at age 38, John was devastated and began researching the problems that stress creates for police officers. He decided he needed to do something to help change those problems and he wanted to give something back to the profession that gave him so much. He started a project that has evolved into Put simply, the mission of CopsAlive is to save the lives of those who save lives! gathers information, strategies and tools to help law enforcement professionals plan for happy, healthy and successful careers, relationships and lives.
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