Two NIJ Studies on Shift Length, Sleep Disorders and Police Officer Wellness


Shift length most beneficial to officers may also save money

This week, the U.S. National Institute of Justice released findings from two new studies that have implications for improving police officer wellness and work life. The Shift Length Experiment showed that the length of an officer’s work shift has a significant impact on their wellness; a 10-hour work shift offers a number of benefits over the commonly used 8-hour shift, including that officers get more sleep. This report is released on the heels of Sleep Disorders, Health, and Safety in Police Officers finding that 40 percent of officers studied had at least one sleep disorder. Sleep disorders are associated with an increased risk… of safety violations and adverse health conditions.

This research showcases the importance of using science to develop a workplace and structure in police departments that is not only efficient and effective in securing public safety but is also considerate of the needs and limitations of police officers who are so often pushed beyond their limits. This is mutually beneficial to both officers and the public they serve to protect.
The Shift Length Experiment: What We Know About 8-, 10-, and 12-hour Shifts

Traditionally, law enforcement agencies schedule patrol officers to work 40-hour workweeks made up of five consecutive 8-hour shifts. Recently, some agencies have begun using compressed workweeks of four 10-hour shifts or three 12-hour shifts per week. While the compressed workweek is increasing in popularity among law enforcement agencies, there has been little scientific research on the benefits and disadvantages of these shift lengths.

Researchers at the Police Foundation focused on the impact shift lengths have on officer performance, health, safety, quality of life, sleep, fatigue, alertness, off-duty employment, and overtime. Results showed that working four 10-hour shifts has advantages over working the traditional five 8-hour shifts. However, the compressed workweek benefits did not always apply to three 12-hour shifts, as officers working 12-hour shifts were more sleepy and less alert at work. The results revealed no significant difference in actual work performance between the different shift lengths.

To examine the extent to which shift lengths matter, researchers studied officers in Detroit, Michigan and Arlington, Texas. The officers volunteered to work the three types of shifts for six-months each, and the researchers compared outcomes for each shift.

Specific findings supporting the use of 10-hour shifts include:
• Officers working 10-hour shifts got more than half an hour more sleep per night than those working 8-hour shifts.
• Officers working 10-hour shifts reported a significantly higher quality of work life than those working 8-hour shifts.

Additionally, officers working 10-hour shifts worked the least amount of overtime of the three groups, meaning the shift length proven most beneficial to officers could also lead to cost savings for police departments.

CLICK HERE to download the full report.

You can also see the final report from the Police Foundation that was written especially for practitioners (and 60 pages v. 200+) it is available by CLICKING HERE

Sleep Disorders, Health, and Safety in Police Officers

With ever-changing schedules, overtime, and overnight shifts, it is not surprising that some police officers suffer from sleep disorders. The prevalence of sleep disorders among police officers, however, may come as a shock. Over a period of two years, researchers at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School in Boston, gathered data on sleep disorders, health, and performance from almost 5,000 police officers in North America. The data showed that almost 40 percent of police officers screened positive for sleep disorders – almost double the 15 to 20 percent estimated rate of sleep disorders in the general population.

Officers with sleep disorders had a higher risk of falling asleep while driving, committing an error or safety violation attributable to fatigue, and experiencing uncontrolled anger towards a suspect. These officers were also more likely to report committing a serious administrative error and had a higher rate of absenteeism than those without sleep disorders.

The most common sleep disorder – affecting 33 percent of officers screened – was obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition in which the airway becomes narrowed or blocked during sleep. Excessive sleepiness affected 28.5 percent and moderate to severe insomnia affected 6.5 percent of officers surveyed.

Officers with sleep disorders also had an increased prevalence of physical and mental health conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and depression. In fact, having a sleep disorder increased an officer’s odds of having heart disease by 45 percent, and depression by a whopping 120 percent.

An article on these findings, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, can be found by CLICKING HERE

CopsAlive is written to prompt discussions within our profession about the issues of law enforcement career survival. 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 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.

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. We call this Tactical Wellness planning.

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.

We provide stress management and Tactical Wellness for police officers and other law enforcement professionals.

CLICK HERE to read more about The Law Enforcement Survival Institute.

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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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  1. Hi Howard,
    Thank you for your comment and you bring up an interesting subject that has raised red flags in three major areas of concern for police officers. How sleep, fitness and nutrition correlate to either enhance an officers job performance or deter it. I know that these relationship all need further study.

  2. Good article on an often overlooked subject. It is also interesting to examine the correlation between sleep deprivation and obesity, which should be of concern to any department as a factor in overall physical fitness of officers.

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