Getting Enough Sleep is Critical to Your Safety and Success

 John Marx, CPP
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Executive Director – The Law Enforcement Survival Institute
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It’s very clear in modern research that people in our modern society are not getting enough sleep and that sleep deficit is cause major health and life problems. If you put police officers and other law enforcement professionals into the mix who work odd hours, have high stress jobs and are addicted to all kinds of things that are bad for you (alcohol, junk food, caffeine) the the stakes get really high. We are playing a high stakes game of Russian roulette with our safety and health.

According to a large British study released in September of 2007 and reported by Reuters “People who do not get enough sleep are more than twice as likely to die of heart disease, Although the reasons are unclear, researchers said lack of sleep appeared to be linked to increased blood pressure, which is known to raise the risk of heart attacks and stroke.

Another study from January of 2009 suggests that “People who get less than seven hours of sleep at night have a three times higher risk of catching a cold than people who sleep eight hours or more.”

And we in law enforcement are not immune, in a report entitled “Sleep Disorders Highly Prevalent Among Police Officers” it suggests that sleep problems “are exacerbated in shift workers such as police officers, who may experience chronic sleep loss due to their schedules. The study, authored by Shantha M.W. Rajaratnam, PhD, of Harvard Medical School, was based on the responses of 4,471 police officers and determined that “sleep disorders appear to be highly prevalent in the present sample of police officers”. Rajaratnam also said: “Sleep disorder screening and treatment programs may potentially improve police officer health, safety and productivity.” The report also said that the amount of sleep a person gets affects his or her physical health, emotional well-being, mental abilities, productivity and performance.

The Police Policy Studies Council quotes a story from the CBS show Health Watch in 2001 describing Sleep Deprivation as ‘Public Enemy Number 1′ for Cops. The documentary cites studies, including two in from the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention, showing that the effects of sleep deprivation are similar to the changes in ability and judgment seen in a person under the influence of alcohol. “Seventeen hours without sleep is equivalent to a .05 blood alcohol level, and 24 hours without sleep is like a .01 blood alcohol level.

The PPSC article also quoted the author of “Tired Cops: The Importance of Managing Police Fatigue” (2000, Police Executive Research Forum), as suggesting that police fatigue can play a role in questionable shootings, especially in low-light conditions.

Here are some suggestions for you and you can learn more at our website by just querying the term “Sleep” in our “Investigate our Website” box on the right. We have several articles that have addressed the issues of sleep both directly and indirectly with other issues.

Eat well and get plenty of exercise and drink lots of water.

Don’t eat or drink anything like coffee, tea or alcohol within three hours of bedtime.

Try to get around 8 hours of sleep each 24 hour cycle.

Try to set a routine with your sleep pattern even if you work the night shift.

Avoid bright lights near bedtime and if you works nights sleep in a very dark room.

Things like a good pillow and mattress are important for good quality sleep so invest in the best you can afford and old mattresses wear out and can effect your sleep so get a new one.

Avoid exercise right before bedtime, many feel that exercise is better as you are starting your day.


Recommended Resources:
Tired Cops: The Importance of Managing Police Fatigue
Code 844
ISBN: 1-878734-67-9
190 pp.
Available from the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF)
To order call 888-202-4563

Resource Web Sites:

Author’s Biography:
John Marx is the founder of He was a Police Officer for twenty-three years and served as a Hostage Negotiator for nineteen 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. John retired from law enforcement in 2002. When one of his friends, also a former police officer, committed suicide at age 38, John was motivated to 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 is to save the lives of those who save lives!

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