Vol. 79, No. 2News notes

Two police officers look at person sleeping on bench in bus shelter at night.

Study addresses sleepless cops

Working the night shift can be a major contributor to fatigue in police officers, according to Dr. Charles Samuels, a sleep physician specializing in police performance. Credit: RCMP


The mention of working a graveyard shift is enough to make any police officer yawn. Long hours, late nights and responding to stressful calls can be a recipe for fatigue among front-line officers.

Fiona Vincent, manager of the Fitness and Lifestyle Unit for Saskatchewan RCMP, realized this issue likely affects many RCMP officers in detachments across the province. So in 2015, she decided to investigate.

To determine the scope of fatigue in Saskatchewan's RCMP detachments, Vincent reached out to Dr. Charles Samuels, a sleep physician. They recruited researchers from the University of Calgary and Washington State University, and launched a two-year Sleep Management Program.

"Policing requires that members do shift work, and shift workers don't get enough sleep," says Samuels, who has researched fatigue in the Calgary Police Service and the Toronto Police Service. "It creates an ongoing state of jet-lag."

The program included a three-hour fatigue training session, along with a survey for members to take before the session, and six weeks after. The goal was to determine how many RCMP officers were fatigued, and if training could help reduce that fatigue.

"I've been a police officer long enough to know that sleep can be a rare commodity," says S/Sgt. Darren Simons, the Carlyle, Sask. detachment commander who participated in the study. "It was learning the little things like when to best grab a nap, or when to have caffeine that really helped."

After two years of work, the researchers determined fatigue was very high within the RCMP — only 20 per cent of members surveyed were satisfied with the sleep they were getting. They also found that intervention (in the form of the training session) did make a difference in officers' sleep habits.

After taking the training, Simons saw the value in adopting a more sleep-friendly environment. Last year, with support from the fitness and lifestyle unit, he bought a nap chair and couch for his detachment.

"We carry guns, we're expected to make life-and-death decisions so being alert and cognizant of our environment is very important," he says. "If you get a good night's sleep, you can do a lot."

The Sleep Management Program wraps up in spring 2017, when it will be reviewed for continuation.

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