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Thread: Civilian question for cops who are shift workers.

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2014

    Civilian question for cops who are shift workers.

    What is the impact on a police officer performance when seriously sleep deprived? I've worked a swing shift for years in a factory and have been on this desperate quest for improved sleep quality. I have tried everything from alcohol to prescription narcotics, prescription sleep aids (all long since abandoned) and then lastly to over the counter stuff like Benadryl. None of it worked. Sleep quality and also work performance began a steady decline. It showed up as slower reaction time, more errors, more serious life threatening errors, numbers and letters coming out backwards on my charting, poor judgment in areas long since mastered, temper, anger, frustration, fires, minor explosions, equipment damage and on and on. I have to double or triple my safe following distance in traffic. Fallen asleep at the wheel countless times. Completely rested and alert none of these are issues. But none of my errors can have the devastating consequences of helping to set a city or a whole country on fire. I might get three days off or I might get fired, might even loose a finger but my family does not have to go into hiding because of my work place mistake.

    So how do cops handle shift work and go about getting the proper rest for best performance at work? Are the consequences of shift work and its impact on the body and mind recognized by your employers?

  2. #2
    happy sharps enabler Totem Polar's Avatar
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    Aug 2013
    Not LE, but my memory is that this was a big factor in the Amber Guyger/Botham Jean case. She got 10 years for that one, and he’s dead.
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  3. #3
    IS WHAT PLANTS CRAVE BehindBlueI's's Avatar
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    Mar 2015
    I think you've nailed the effect of sleep deprivation pretty well. I don't recall the specific number or source any longer, but a surprisingly high number of "iffy" use of force incidents have sleep deprivation as a component.

    As policing isn't monolithic, I can only speak for my own department. It's recognized in some regards. There are limits put in place on how much part-time and overtime you can work in a given week, absent an emergency like riots. We do not rotate shifts. Most non-supervisory positions shift bid based on seniority annually. That's your shift for the year, with rare exception.

    If you get called into IA, they will ask you about your sleep, health, medications, etc. as part of the interview, along with a general sort of "anything that could affect your judgement" sort of question.

    So it's sort of recognized, but also there is the recognition some guys have to work nights.
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  4. #4
    We also track off duty work hours. When I was a patrol Lt, I knew who my workaholics were and watched them closely. I also knew my people well and knew who had sleep issues unrelated to work. I had my Sergeants active on those officers scenes. I did timesheets daily, if I saw too much OT coming across I’d have a talk with the guy/gal. Working 12’s, even day shift 5a-5p, it can be a long day if the night before didn’t go well with sleep. Add more work after shift is a recipe for bad performance, officer complaints, crashes etc. I have sent more than one officer home who clearly was sleep deprived in roll call. I let them get rest and come back later. Only a couple times but it sends a strong message to everyone. There is talk after to get to the root cause.

    Having said all that most officers where I work wouldn’t give up 12’s. You are off half the month, short week is 2 days. Which means you can burn two vacation days and be off 7. You longest consecutive days worked is 3. I’ve worked the 6 on 3 off before with 8.5, which is what the road works in Indy. That too seems like a lot of days in a row dealing with their run loads. We are busy but not like they are. It’s a tough topic to get fixed I think, but some agencies are trying.

    I also think with the newer generation officers work less OT, there is less hanging out after shift, especially on 12’s. People often do their time and go home.
    Last edited by cpd2110; 04-15-2021 at 09:03 PM.

  5. #5
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    Feb 2011
    I’ve long thought that the “suck it up” attitude many agencies have toward sleep deprivation was and is very problematic. I’ve seen it in local, state, and federal agencies. One state police agency I was familiar with had troopers rotating from day to night shift every two weeks.

    We have strict regulations about truck drivers’ hours of service logs, but what about the people who are not only driving at odd hours, but also packing guns, arrest powers, and emergency response duties? If ever there was a group that ought to be well rested...

  6. #6
    Member Lon's Avatar
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    Apr 2011
    Dayton, Ohio
    Formerly known as xpd54.
    The opinions expressed in this post are my own and do not reflect the opinions or policies of my employer.

  7. #7

    Out of print, but a library may have a copy. I've got it, but dont loan out books. Been hosed on a rare copy or two.
    Short answer, rotaing shifts and fatigue hit cops the same way as every other human being. Numerous studies have shown sick use goes up, mistakes are made, and productivity goes down. In every field. There's a reason the FAA is pretty strict on crew rest for aviators. I rotated shifts weekly for years. It took 15 years of arguing to get patrol on a permanent shift. Those who opposed the idea were mostly admin weenies with a M-F day job who hid/ran from police work.

  8. #8
    critical race weary blues's Avatar
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    Aug 2016
    Blue Ridge Mtns
    Quote Originally Posted by Le Français View Post
    I’ve long thought that the “suck it up” attitude many agencies have toward sleep deprivation was and is very problematic. I’ve seen it in local, state, and federal agencies. One state police agency I was familiar with had troopers rotating from day to night shift every two weeks.

    We have strict regulations about truck drivers’ hours of service logs, but what about the people who are not only driving at odd hours, but also packing guns, arrest powers, and emergency response duties? If ever there was a group that ought to be well rested...
    Leaving aside the judgment and enforcement side of the equation...I can't count how many times driving home after a long day and night (or more) on a narcotics case, followed by the processing of prisoners and evidence, that I could barely keep my car in the lane I was driving home in and felt impaired. Then having to be in court a couple of hours later for initial appearance.

    It's a recipe for disaster.
    ...and just like that, I woke up one morning and the America I knew and loved was gone.

  9. #9
    Our training section told us that we were doomed to cancer and other health ailments due to our shifts. It didn't make any changes though.

  10. #10
    THE THIRST MUTILATOR Nephrology's Avatar
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    Sep 2011
    Not a cop but tons of experience working with little to no sleep in other settings.

    Shift work sleep disorder is a real thing. It may be worth seeing your physician about this as there are a couple options you have to help improve the quality of the sleep you are able to get, but at least in my personal experience, no matter how hard I try I always sleep like total fucking garbage when I am on nights. Daylight is like kryptonite to my REM cycle. Blackout curtains help, but not as much as I'd like.

    One thing I would be very, very careful about is operating motor vehicles. Sleep deprivation can be just as impairing as alcohol intoxication.

    Beyond that here are the cliffnotes from the uptodate article on shift work sleep disorder. Covers the bases pretty well. My personal opinion is that they exaggerate the risk of cancer and heart disease associated with shift work sleep disorder, which I would attribute as secondary consequences of how shift work ruins your diet and destroys your motivation to stay active (in my personal experience anyway). Do what you can to address that, but I understand it's an uphill battle, so set your expectations accordingly.

    ●Individuals who work night shifts commonly experience difficulties with both sleep and alertness at desired times, and shift work is increasingly recognized as a risk factor for a variety of adverse health outcomes, including diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. (See 'Introduction' above.)

    ●While some shift workers show circadian adjustment to their work schedule, most do not. Up to one-third of shift workers report regular, persistent complaints of insomnia and/or excessive sleepiness that meet formal criteria for shift work disorder (SWD). (See 'Diagnostic criteria' above.)

    ●Shift workers generally have severely reduced total sleep time over a 24-hour period compared with non-shift workers, and they commonly report difficulty with sleep initiation and maintenance. Disturbances during wakefulness include excessive sleepiness, impaired cognitive function, decreased psychomotor functioning, and altered social and emotional functioning, leading to an increased risk for accidents. (See 'Clinical spectrum' above.)

    ●The evaluation of shift workers who complain of sleep or wake disturbances includes a comprehensive sleep history, risk assessment, and objective assessment of sleep-wake patterns. Sleep logs and actigraphy are the primary tools used to objectively determine sleep-wake patterns over an extended period (ideally two weeks). (See 'Evaluation and diagnosis' above.)

    ●Minimum measures to improve sleep after a night shift include a regular sleep schedule (ie, anchor sleep), light-blocking shades, and ambient noise control. If family or social responsibilities prohibit one seven- to nine-hour sleep period, a regularized three- to four-hour morning "anchor" sleep with a second variably timed sleep period is recommended. (See 'Sleep scheduling' above and 'Improving daytime sleep' above.)

    ●Pharmacological interventions for sleep include short-acting benzodiazepine receptor agonists and melatonin. The newer orexin receptor antagonists may also be considered. Risks of carry-over sedation should be discussed and monitored when any hypnotic is used. Importantly, optimizing daytime sleep does not eliminate sleepiness during the night shift, and additional measures are needed to mitigate the risk for accidents, particularly in patients with circadian misalignment. (See 'Hypnotics' above and 'Exogenous melatonin' above.)

    ●Behavioral strategies to improve sleep in shift workers include sleep scheduling (including naps) and cognitive behavioral therapy. (See 'Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia' above.)

    ●Naps (less than one hour) before and during the night shift can improve alertness; caffeine intake during the shift can also help. (See 'Naps' above and 'Caffeine' above.)

    ●For individuals with excessive sleepiness during night shifts who desire pharmacotherapy, we suggest armodafinil or modafinil (Grade 2B). The observed benefits in randomized trials have been modest, however, and side effects may outweigh benefits in some patients. (See 'Wake-promoting agents' above.)

    ●Shift workers are at greatest risk of accidents during night and early morning shifts when circadian alertness is minimal. These and other safety issues should be reviewed with patients regularly. (See 'Safety issues' above.)
    One more point: antihistamines like Benadryl and Unisom will actively suppress your REM sleep and thus reduce its overall quality. I would save those drugs for when you have absolutely no other choice. A better OTC option are melatonin supplements. I swear by these. I don't know why the gummies work so well vs. tablets but thats been my experience.

    Keep in mind you dont really need that much melatonin, either - iirc a physiological dose would be around 0.5mg. Not sure why companies sell them in such whopper doses. I like the kid's formulation for that reason. You can just cut the gummy in half and you'll get pretty close to an optimal dose. There isn't a lot of advantage to taking more than that unless you want some really funky dreams and a bit of a 'hangover" in the AM.
    Last edited by Nephrology; 04-16-2021 at 07:05 AM.

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