Everyone Needs Sleep, Especially Cops

By Brian T. McVey

Are you that officer who shows up to work thinking you are “Officer Friendly when your spouse or co-workers say you are a lot more like “Officer Tired and Cranky?”

One reason is that you are probably working long hours, different shifts and side jobs while not getting enough sleep. Sleep deprivation influences not only mental but also physical health and performance. Lack of sleep is also associated with depression and mood disorders.

Judging by sales of prescribed over the counter sleep medications, millions of people rely on meds to get to sleep despite the fact that they are addictive and don’t work over the long term.

Many athletes, who understand they have to perform at high levels under enormous pressure, have become masters of “sleep.”

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady attributes much of his on-field success to getting enough rest.

“I have to do things differently,” Brady told ESPN Magazine. “And that means getting a lot of sleep.”

“The old school approach of toughing it out is completely bogus, not to mention counterproductive,” maintains Charles Czeisler, director of the division of sleep medicine at the Harvard Medical School. Czeisler, who is known around the National Basketball Association (NBA) as the “sleep doctor,” recommends a simple formula for maximizing elite athletic skills—more sleep.

Warren Buffet, one of the world’s most successful investors, is similarly greedy about his sleep. He famously told investors, “Why don’t you go home and get a good night’s rest, and we’ll meet again tomorrow,” after an important meeting in the 1990’s.

Bryan Vila conducted a comprehensive study of police fatigue which he published in his book, Tired Cops: The Importance of Managing Police Fatigue (2000).

Vila is a professor of criminal justice and criminology at Washington State University. His research focuses on the impact of sleep-related fatigue, shift work and long work hours on the safety, health and performance of police officers.

In a TED Talk, Bryan spoke about the fact that if you work officers harder, you wear them out. “More officers get sick and more of them burnout. You then have fewer bodies to put out on the street,” Bryan said.

Over the long-term, sleep disruption suppresses your immune system which can lead to cancer, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic disorders and psychological problems. Several studies done at the Center for Sleep Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine on sleeping patterns of police officers confirmed that shift work contributes to sleep disorders and excessive fatigue.

Over 18 million Americans have sleep apnea, a disorder in which the airway becomes blocked, causing sufferers to snore loudly and stop breathing for short periods. Those that suffer from sleep apnea feel constantly drowsy which can raise blood pressure to dangerously high levels.

A good night’s sleep will get you recharged. Sleep also helps to burn calories—between 50 and 100 calories an hour.

Very few law enforcement agencies have established comprehensive shift, work-hour, and fatigue management policies despite the well understood, long-standing, and profound influences that round-the-clock schedules have on worker health, safety, performance, job satisfaction, and family life. Right now, this is a health and safety issue we have to deal with on our own. So, work on getting more sleep. It’s our only choice.

Brian McVey is a proud husband and father, former Chicago Police Officer, adjunct faculty member, writer, and coffee enthusiast. You can reach him at Btmcvey77@gmail.com.

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