Sleep Deprivation and Poor Diet are common throughout our society. For law enforcement officers, they can be extremely dangerous. Becoming a police officer is not for the faint of heart. Many hours of training are required and the learning curve is steep. Once in the position of a working officer, dealing with everyday issues and the constant stress can wear down even the most devoted employee. Being witness to violence and its aftermath on an everyday basis can shake even the most stalwart of people. But what about the aspects of work schedules and lifestyle habits? How do these factor into the overall health and longevity of an officer? Demanding and odd schedules can crowd out time to establish exercise routines and healthy meal choices. The manner in which an officer learns to deal with police stress can have a serious impact on their quality of life.
Police Stress: To Sleep or Not to Sleep
Law enforcement is a 24/7 necessity. Police officers cannot simply clock in at 8:00 and clock out at 16:00. Officers must be staffed around the clock, seven days a week, and even on holidays. So what effect does this demanding schedule produce on an officer? A study on the sleep quality of shift workers revealed that officers working night-shift experienced 70% poor sleep quality¹. Police officers that work 2nd or 3rd shift are required to be alert as their daytime counterparts. One of the differences is that their daytime counterparts can continue on as usual with their lives outside of work. 2nd and 3rd shift workers still have spouses, children, school activities, and responsibilities at home. This can cut into an already limited and disrupted sleep schedule. And with the lack of quality sleep, these workers may be more irritable and not as sharply focused.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, the effects of sleep and shift work actually has a name. Shift Work Sleep Disorder. Symptoms can include headaches, low energy levels, and problems concentrating². So what can happen besides experiencing these symptoms? Accidents, miscommunication, slower response times, and angry outbursts. Some shift workers may also feel disconnected from those in their life who operate on a normal day schedule. Missing out on ball games, church services, and other events can lead to additional stress in the family.
Police Stress: Food to Go
Another struggle that police workers contend with is how to maintain healthy eating habits. Riding in a patrol car does not allow officers the luxury to have access to a kitchen. Stopping at a fast food restaurant or grabbing food from a gas station in between calls is often the only chance an officer gets to eat a meal. After a time, the fast food and gas station meals become the normal experience for the officer. These poor choices lead to weight gain, cardiovascular issues, and other medical conditions. Another negative of eating this sort of food often is that it has no nutritional value or contribution. As an officer, a situation can change instantly and your body needs to be ready to adapt. Eating a greasy cheeseburger, fries, and washing it all down with a large soft drink is not going to help you as you go in foot pursuit of a suspect.
Police Stress: New Routine, Better Health
How can officers change these habits? Is it even an option? Working law enforcement is always going to involve odd shifts that are not conducive to obtaining adequate sleep. There are ways to help a shift worker to get better sleep:
- Cool temperatures in the bedroom
- Minimal to no lighting
- Don’t exercise near bedtime
- Limit chocolate and caffeine consumption
- Stay off all electronic devices
- Read a book
These are only a few of the suggestions that have been proven to help shift workers establish the best possible routines for ensuring a good period of sleep³. It is extremely important to establish a good routine and stick with it, when at all possible. Your overall health, mental state, attitude, and work performance will exhibit the results.
Changing your eating habits may present more of a challenge. Like most things worthwhile, this takes a bit of forethought and preparation. Recipes and ideas are shared by the millions across the internet. Meal plans, shopping lists, and recipes are easily found. Even if you do not like to cook, try to find some easy ideas for meals you can prep ahead of time and take with you in your cruiser. Keep in mind lack of heating and cooling elements, and limited space. Sandwiches, fresh fruit, and veggies with some dip will do more for your overall health, waistline, and performance than hitting up the local fast food spots.
Sleep Deprivation and Poor Diet can be successfully managed by officers, regardless of shift worked. It requires a proactive approach. Remember that every choice you make compounds as an end result. If you are not happy with your current results, change up your routine, put in the effort, and surprise yourself with how a little more consistent rest and better meals can help limit police stress.
¹Fekedulegn, D.,Burchfiel, CM., Charles, LE., Hartley, TA., Andrew,ME., Violanti, JM. (2016). Shift Work and Sleep Quality Among Urban Police Officers: The BCOPS study. [Abstract].
Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 58(3):e66-71.
Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26949891
³Marx. J. (2011, July 5). The Importance of Sleep to Police Officers. CopsAlive.com. Retrieved from http://www.copsalive.com/the-importance-of-sleep-to-police-officers/
John Becker Jr. has experience as a police officer, clinician, and outreach professional. John also possesses a unique understanding of substance abuse among first responders, having overcome addiction in his own life. He is the Director of First Responder Services, for Sprout Health Group and was instrumental in developing and implementing Frontline Responder Services. John is an active member of the Montgomery County (PA) Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) Team and is certified by the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF) for individual and group interventions. John is also a member of the National Police Suicide Foundation and has provided training, on topics specific to First Responders, to agencies and organizations throughout the country. He can be reached at 215-833-1572 or JohnB@SproutHealthGroup.com