Many Police Officers Battle Sleep Woes, Study
TUESDAY, Dec. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Sleep problems are common
among police officers and are associated with more health issues
and poorer performance on the job, a new study shows.
Researchers screened almost 5,000 police officers from the
United States and Canada online or in person and found that 40
percent of them had a sleep disorder.
The most common problem, suffered by one-third of the officers,
was obstructive sleep apnea, which occurs when muscle tissue in the
back of the throat relaxes and collapses, temporarily blocking the
airway. It can recur dozens of times a night, interrupting sleep
and resulting in daytime exhaustion.
Another 6.5 percent had insomnia, according to the study
published in the Dec. 21 issue of the
Journal of the American Medical Association.
"Sleep disorders are very prevalent in this group. We found one out of four officers shows excessive sleepiness," said study author Dr. Charles Czeisler, director of the sleep medicine division at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
Czeisler said he and his colleagues found that those who
screened positive for a sleep disorder had a 58 percent increased
risk of falling asleep while driving. In addition, they had a 76
percent increase in safety violations, a 23 percent greater risk of
an occupational injury and a 21 percent increased risk of
expressing uncontrolled anger toward a suspect or citizen.
Sleep-challenged officers also had a 39 percent greater risk of
making a serious administrative error at work compared to those who
did not. They were 26 percent more likely to experience
absenteeism, had a 24 percent greater chance of receiving a citizen
complaint against them and nearly double the risk of falling asleep
The study also showed a 96 percent increased risk of falling
asleep during a telephone call, which led Czeisler to recall a
YouTube video out a few years ago in which a woman called 911 in
Memphis to report an intruder in her home and heard snoring on the
other end of the line.
Depression, anxiety and emotional burnout were higher in the
sleep-disorder group as well, the investigators found.
A positive screening for obstructive sleep apnea was also
associated with a diagnosis of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and
high caffeine consumption, the study reported. Czeisler said excess
weight, common in those with sleep apnea, likely plays a role.
He said sleep problems are likely higher in the emergency worker
population and shift work can interfere with healthy sleep
patterns, the research suggests. But, "the American population is
probably not that far behind. We know the U.S. adult population has
been gaining weight. Two-thirds of Americans are now overweight or
obese," Czeisler added.
Commenting on the study, Dr. Joseph Ojile, founder and managing
director of the Clayton Sleep Institute in St. Louis, said, "What
they uncovered is true to what we see in our office every day.
These are the people we see -- our family, friends and neighbors
who work in the field of law. It's a large, rigorous study. It's
very helpful for us to be able to say this issue is real, here's
data to back it up," he added.
"My personal hope is that this will allow us to start to have a conversation with police chiefs and city councils and say, 'Let us help you work with these individuals,'" said Ojile, who said he's talked with interested local police and the city's bus authorities, but that mass sleep-disorders screenings have not been conducted so far.
Sleep expert Dr. Michael Grandner, who co-wrote an accompanying
editorial in the journal, said he was surprised by the high rate of
undiagnosed sleep disorders among police officers.
He pointed out that the association between poor sleep and poor
job performance was also a concern. "Falling asleep at the wheel
doesn't just put the officer at risk but everyone else, too -- the
public at large," said Grandner, a postdoctoral researcher at the
Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology at the University of
Grandner said the study supports the need to talk to the public
about the significance of being well rested. "We've gotten to the
point where people understand the importance of heart health and
obesity, but we haven't gotten there with sleep yet," he explained.
"The general public hasn't bought into the idea that sleep is
In fact, Grandner said people often consider less sleep an
admirable trait. "We brag about getting less sleep as a way of
proving how hard of a worker we are," he noted.
The next step, Grandner agreed, is to get employers on board, to
convince police departments that sleepiness impacts their workers'
health, job satisfaction and performance, as well as their bottom
"Police officers have a very important job and we trust them to be vigilant and safe," Grandner said.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more on
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