Police and Sleep Problems: Are You a 40%er?

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In law enforcement, you strive to be a 5%er, a symbol of excellence and commitment. But you may also be a 40%er. And that ain’t so good.

After surveying 5,296 LEOs in North America, a Harvard Medical School group reports that nearly 40% (38.8%) of active-duty officers are suffering from sleep abnormalities. These include apnea, insomnia, shift work disorder, restless legs syndrome, and narcolepsy with temporary paralysis.

Yet sleep disorders in cops often go undiagnosed and largely untreated, according to one of the researchers, Dr. Shantha Rajaratnam. For example, “almost half the individuals diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea [a dangerous condition in which impaired breathing can lead to a heart attack or stroke] do not regularly take treatment,” he says.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention point out that “police officers work some of the most demanding schedules known, which increases their risk of sleep disorders. The public expects officers to perform flawlessly, but unrecognized-and untreated-sleep problems lead to severe disruption of sleep, which significantly reduces an individual’s ability to think clearly and perform well.”

Besides increasing your risks from accidents, injury, and poor judgment calls, sleep loss and disturbance also make you more vulnerable to depression, obesity, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal disease, and diabetes.

The average age of officers in the Harvard survey was 38; 77% were men. Among the diagnosed disorders, insomnia was most common, followed by shift work problems, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, and narcolepsy (falling asleep uncontrollably).

Given the survey’s unsettling findings, Rajaratnam recommends that widespread “sleep disorder screening and treatment programs should be implemented” in the policing community.

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