Author Insights: Sleep Disorders Affect Health and Job Performance of Police Officers

Charles A. Czeisler, PhD, MD, a professor at Harvard Medical School in Boston, and colleagues found having a sleep disorder was associated with impaired health and job performance among police officers. (Image: Brigham and Women’s Hospital)

Inadequate sleep and sleep disorders, which are known to affect heart health and increase the risk of motor vehicle crashes, may impinge on public health and safety through their effects on police officers, according to research findings reported today in JAMA.

The study involved 4957 North American police officers, who often work extended shifts and at night, about 40% of whom had a sleep disorder. Those with sleep problems were more likely than those without a sleep disorder to be depressed, experience occupational burnout, create administrative errors, violate safety rules, fall asleep at the wheel, experience uncontrolled anger toward citizens or suspects, receive citizen complaints, and miss work. The researchers concluded that their findings suggest that further research is needed to determine whether programs in occupational settings for sleep disorder prevention, screening, and treatment will reduce these risks.

Charles A. Czeisler, PhD, MD, one of the researchers and a professor of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, discusses his team’s findings:

“We began the study, which is part of a larger effort within Harvard, to understand around-the-clock operations to learn how we can mitigate the risks to health, safety, and productivity. I began to realize that there was an interaction between sleep disorders and work schedules such that those with sleep apnea or other sleep disorders are at greater risk if they worked at night. I wanted to see how common this was and to see if we could undertake programs in the workplace to identify those at risk and treat them.

“Working at night and being sleep deprived alters metabolism and [promotes] increased food consumption. Working these kinds of schedules will make you gain weight, and that in turn makes you much more likely to get obstructive sleep apnea.

“Occupational screening for obstructive sleep apnea and other sleep disorders is something feasible to undertake for those at risk for [impairment of] physical and job-related performance which is not unique to law enforcement. We’re not suggesting that these individuals be screened out of employment, but rather that appropriate treatment be initiated. Sleep apnea is eminently treatable.”



Categories: Injury Prevention & Control, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Public Health

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