Stock photo of police car lights at night
Police officers suffer mental and physical effects from fatigue, but even a small amount of training can help, a new study by a WSU College of Nursing researcher found.

Police officers suffer mental and physical effects from chronic fatigue, but information on sleep issues and strategies can help, a new study led by a WSU College of Nursing researcher shows.

Lois James, Ph.D., led a small study involving 61 members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Saskatchewan. Her paper, “Evaluating the Effectiveness of Fatigue Management Training to Improve Police Sleep Health and Wellness,” was published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Fatigue-related issues aren’t unique to police officers; most night-shift workers experience them to some degree, according to the study.

But there are special considerations for law enforcement. Chronic sleep deprivation can affect an officer’s alertness and decision-making abilities, putting him or her at risk on the job, said Bill Lewinski, Ph.D., director of the Force Science Institute, which reported on James’ research. James’ study also notes that fatigue can lead to impulsiveness, aggression, and irritability, and quotes Stanford University researcher William C. Dement as saying, “Police work is the one profession in which we would want all practitioners to have adequate and healthful sleep to perform their duties at peak alertness levels.”

Nearly half the RCMP volunteers in James’ study reported having insomnia; on average they got about six hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. Just over half said they were bothered by headaches, and 41 percent complained of back, neck, or spine trouble. Some 63 percent reported feeling tense on a regular basis, while 20 percent reported depression, and 26 percent reported anxiety. The volunteers’ average age was 38, and 82 percent reported exercising frequently.

Under the study led by James, participants were trained using an anti-fatigue program developed for the Calgary (Alberta) Police Service by Dr. Charles Samuels, a physician on the medical faculty at the University of Calgary who was co-investigator on James’ study. The four-hour training educated participants on the science of sleep; sleep disorders; sleep apnea; and measures to combat fatigue. The latter includes strategic napping, sleep hygiene, light therapy, hydration, and caffeine management.

Portrait of Lois James in front of her CBTSim simulator
Lois James

After the trainings, participants reported that their physical and mental symptoms had all improved.

James noted that the symptoms pre- and post-training were self-reported, and that 61 participants is a small sample size. But, she wrote, “our findings suggest that fatigue-management training holds promise for improving police sleep, health, and wellness, and would be culturally accepted by police officers.”

–Story by Addy Hatch