A new study found that nearly half of police officers from the U.S. and Canada suffer from sleep disorders, including apnea and insomnia
A survey from the United States and Canada found 40 percent of police officers had symptoms of a sleep disorder, including sleep apnea and insomnia.
Officers who screened positive for those disorders were also more likely to be burnt out, depressed, or have an anxiety disorder. And over the next two years, they committed more administrative errors and safety violations and were more prone to falling asleep at the wheel than sound sleepers.
"In general we have this cultural attitude of, sleep is for the weak," said Dr. Michael Grandner, from the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
"When you're in an environment where signs of weakness are particularly discouraged, there may be a social pressure to not address sleep problems or to shrug them off," added Grandner, the author of a commentary published with the new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
"You have people who are sleep deprived, which means that their ability to make good decisions, to respond effectively, well ... all of those things are impaired."
But when police officers in particular suffer from sleep problems, he said, it becomes a public health and safety problem. "It's not just the people with sleep disorders that are affected," Grandner told Reuters Health. "If they're impaired, you're at risk."
Researchers say police departments could do more to make sure that officers with sleep disorders get the appropriate treatment, which may include sleep machines, therapy, or changes in work schedules.
For the new study, close to 5,000 police officers were surveyed on sleep problems and other health topics. That included Philadelphia officers and Massachusetts state police as well as a broader range of other U.S. and Canadian cops. The officers were an average of 38 to 39 years old and most had been in the police force for more than decade.
Dr. Charles Czeisler from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and his colleagues found that 40 percent of the officers screened positive for at least one sleep disorder. The most common was sleep apnea, which affected one-third of cops, followed by moderate or severe insomnia and shift work disorder, which consists of sleepiness and insomnia associated with working at night.
Officers with a sleep disorder were more than twice as likely as healthy sleepers to report depression, emotional exhaustion, or burnout and anxiety disorders on their original surveys.
On follow-up questionnaires sent out over the next two years, they were also 40 to 60 percent more likely to report making serious administrative errors, falling asleep while driving, or committing a fatigue-related error or safety violation during work. Poor sleepers reported more citizen complaints and more often showed uncontrolled anger toward a suspect or citizen.