Sleep Disorders Prevalent Among Police Officers, Study Finds

About 40 percent of police officers have sleep disorders, leaving them at risk to themselves and others, a study found.

Of those in the study with a disorder, 34 percent suffered from sleep apnea, which causes disruptions in breathing during slumber, while 6.5 percent had moderate to severe insomnia, according to research today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Between 50 million and 70 million Americans have sleep disorders and most are undiagnosed and untreated, the study authors wrote. The untreated maladies can increase a person’s risk for accidents and injuries and cause depression and high blood pressure. Police are susceptible to disturbed slumber because they work long hours on varied shifts, the study said.

“Sleep disorders are common,” Charles Czeisler, the senior study author and chief of the Division of Sleep Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said in a telephone interview. “These disorders are associated with adverse physical and mental health performance problems. They are imminently treatable.”

Previous studies have shown problems with getting rest in other professions that require long hours, Michael Grandner, a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology in the Division of Sleep Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, who also wrote an accompanying editorial.

Other Occupations

“This parallels findings from other occupations like truck drivers and physicians and nurses where we trust them to be alert at all kinds of hours of the day doing all kinds of complicated tasks to ensure our safety and well being,” he said in a telephone interview.

“Getting these disorders recognized and treated can have a profound impact on the people who have them,” he said. “Ten years ago, no one was really talking about sleep disorders as a public health issue. We now have the medical literature to show that sleep disorders are an important factor for health and longevity.”

The study included 4,957 police officers who participated online or at an on-site screening facility. Between July 2006 and December 2007, 3,545 officers completed monthly follow-up surveys.

Of the 4,957 police officers surveyed, 2,003, or 40 percent, were positive for at least one sleep disorder. Four out of five of those were undiagnosed, Czeisler said. And 29 percent of all the officers who participated indicted they experienced excessive sleepiness.

Depression, Burnout

Those who tested positive for a disorder were more likely to report having depression, burnout or emotional exhaustion, and falling asleep while driving than those who didn’t. Those who had sleep apnea were more likely to be obese, have diabetes and heart disease and drink a lot of caffeine, the authors said.

Police officers who had difficulty getting rest had a higher risk of falling asleep behind the wheel, making an error or safety violation due to fatigue, experiencing uncontrolled anger toward a suspect or citizen and having absenteeism, the researchers reported.

Saul Del Rivero, a field representative with the Fraternal Order of Police in Chicago, which represents about 11,000 patrolmen and detectives, said he’s concerned about the health and safety risks as more officers work overtime to fill the gaps left by those who retired. No rules are in place for how long a police officer or detective works, he said in a phone interview.

Acclimating Themselves

In Phoenix, police officers work four 10-hour days and then have three days off. The days and times they work are usually the same as long as the officer stays in the same department, said Franklin Marino, secretary of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, which represents about 2,600 police officers and detectives.

He said by keeping the times and days consistent, people can acclimate themselves to their shifts. And many officers are former military members and are conditioned to survive on fewer hours of sleep.

Today’s study was funded in part by the National Institute of Justice and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

From Businessweek.