Blue Line

World sleep day: Sleep and police officers

March 18, 2022  By Blue Line Staff

The pandemic has made sleep disorders more prevalent amongst the general population, with the term “Coronosomnia” emerging quickly. For police officers, sleep disorders are nothing new or pandemic related—they’ve been part of the reality for years.

As March 18th is World Sleep Day, we are going to dive into the phenomenon that is impacting the quality of life of police officers nation-wide.

Highly prevalent

According to a scientific white paper published by HALEO Clinic, a virtual clinic for sleep disorders, police officers are five times more likely to have sleep disorders than the general population. This is caused by the rotating shifts, but also the high stress situations that police officers deal with daily.

Highly complex

Shift disorders among police officers are highly complex, according to Julien Heon, Vice-President in charge of police relations at HALEO Clinic. “We are seeing a high level of complexity, rotating shift work, and patients with PTSD symptoms and nightmares impacting their sleep. Such complex sleep disorders will require a comprehensive and tailored program to get back to healthy sleep.”

Many think of PTSD as a result of extreme and violent situations, but the reality is that facing highly stressful events on a regular basis will create PTSD symptoms that build up overtime, and will affect police officer’s mood and their ability to sleep properly. When those stressful events meet rotating shifts, all the factors are in place for things to get out of control.

A successful program

HALEO recently announced the signature of a multi-year partnership with the Montreal Police Association, a partnership that offers access to all police officers and their family to HALEO’s comprehensive programs. The partnership was launched in January and hundreds of officers have already completed the five-week program, with a very high satisfaction rate and impressive improvement from a sleep-disorder-symptoms perspective.

Below are a few tricks officers (and other first responders) can use to mitigate shift work effects, created by Dr Maude Bouchard, Neuropsychologist and clinical lead at HALEO Clinic.

  1. Use naps as mitigation tools

Napping can help officers who can’t sleep for long periods of time during the day. If you work nights and sleep during the day and you find your daytime sleep period isn’t long enough, consider adding a long nap before your shift. Ensure there is at least 30 minutes to an hour between the end of the nap and the start of your shift in order to be alert and ready to be on duty. Short naps (15-20 minutes) can be useful to reduce sleepiness during work, when there is an opportunity.

Pay attention to transition days—days on which you move from one type of schedule to another—which often must be managed differently. For example, when we move from night shift to a day shift, it is recommended to sleep a block in the morning after the night shift, but it is not recommended to take a nap in the afternoon. This ensures that our sleep pressure is high enough to fall asleep quickly at night and resume a regular schedule.

According to a scientific white paper published by HALEO Clinic, a virtual clinic for sleep disorders, police officers are five times more likely to have sleep disorders than the general population.

  1. Use light in a smart way

Light is the main synchronizer of the biological clock, a structure in our brain that governs biological rhythms (hormones, temperature fluctuations, etc.). Exposure to light can be stimulating, while blocking light can promote sleep.

When you work evenings or nights and are drowsy, exposing yourself to light can help your alertness. On the flipside, after a night of work, expose yourself to as little daylight as possible before going to sleep. To do this, you can use sunglasses or even a pair of glasses with orange lenses (which cut the blue light wavelengths that are particularly stimulating for the brain) until you go to sleep.

  1. Adjust expectations

Daytime sleep is generally shorter and of lower quality than nighttime sleep. Why? Because the light outside sends a wake-up signal to the brain, and hormones that typically aid sleep at night (like melatonin) aren’t secreted. It is therefore normal for the energy to be lower following one-or-more night shifts. Adjusting expectations and the number of things to do on these days, or on subsequent days off, can reduce productivity pressure and the possible dissatisfaction of not being able to do everything.

  1. Identify other variables that interfere with sleep

Shift work schedules have an impact on our sleep-wake cycle, as do several other variables that are easier to control. In summary:

  • Stop caffeine in the second half of your evening or night shift.
  • Make sure your bedroom is completely dark and as quiet as possible (use of earplugs or white noise is recommended in a noisier environment).
  • Take time to decompress after a shift and before going to bed.
  1. Evaluate your sleep

Take a few minutes to complete a free self-evaluation of your sleep. You will get an instant report showing your result and that will help you identify areas of improvement:

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