Sleep is important for all, but especially front-line workers like police. The unpredictable hours, shift work and the exposure to trauma that can lead to unrested sleep is a serious issue.

Sleep apnoea is one such problem. Characterised by interruptions in breathing during sleep for 10 seconds or more, five times per hour, it interrupts sleep and decreases oxygen levels in the blood. And, significantly, a recent study suggests 33% of police officers have sleep apnoea.1

It might surprise you that those with severe sleep apnoea have 10 times the risk of dying from heart-related issues than those with no issues, and that men in their 20s need to be screened for sleep apnoea the most.2

That’s because the condition is linked with cardiovascular diseases, particularly hypertension – and we know approximately three-quarters of first responders have pre-hypertension or hypertension.3 Hypertension is also common in young people, however 50% of young adults diagnosed with hypertension go untreated, as it doesn’t usually present symptoms.4

Reduced sleep, more work & sleep apnoea can have grave consequences

Being overweight is a major known risk factor of sleep apnoea and a condition that many first responders struggle with.

Shift workers miss home-cooked meals and often find it difficult to sync up with family and friends. There’s also the trauma and tragedies of police work, which increases the risk of substance abuse and mental health problems. All of these factors contribute to compromised sleep.

For police, good sleep isn’t a luxury. It’s absolutely essential to the performance and responsiveness in emergencies, where lives are on the line. One study revealed alarming numbers:

  • 28.5% of participants experienced excessive sleepiness
  • 45.9% nodded off or have fallen asleep while driving
  • 56.9% fell asleep while driving at least one to two times a month
  • 13.5% fell asleep driving at least one to three times a week5

A culture of ‘sleep is for the weak’

Police operate in an environment where signs of weakness aren’t welcomed and it’s difficult to express feeling defeat. It’s easy for others to shrug off a lack of sleep, but for first responders, this is a chronic issue. Sleep apnoea and other disorders don’t just put individuals at risk, but the greater community.

We need to bring light to sleep disorders, too, because they’re often the precursor to emotional exhaustion, anxiety, depression, burnout, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.6 One research piece even talks about poor sleep being the reason for firefighter deaths.7 And again, almost all of these cases go undiagnosed.

So, this issue is more than just feeling fatigue.  

For young police officers at the start of their careers, creating healthy sleeping habits is critical. It’s important not to fall into toxic patterns of reaching for substances to fall asleep and to invest in strategies that process (and release) trauma, as it comes up.

If you’re worried about your sleep habits consult your GP, who can help you find a sleep specialist to help if needed.

Cover like no other

Police Health understands the unique health needs of the police community, because we’ve been looking after them for over 85 years. We provide cover for sleep studies as well as CPAP machines.* Whether you’re already a member, or interested in becoming one, call us on 1800 603 603 to find out how to get the most out of our cover and benefits.

References:

1 https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/sleep-disorders-linked-poor-health-and-reduced-occupational-performance-police-officers

2 https://www.newswise.com/articles/twenty-somethings-with-sleep-apnea-most-likely-to-die

3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18927545

4 https://www.bustle.com/p/7-health-conditions-you-can-get-in-your-20s-30s-according-to-experts-18213942

⁵ https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111220172618.htm

⁶ https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2011/12/law-enforcement-impaired-many-cops-have-sleep-disorders/250306/

⁷ https://time.com/3584980/sleep-problems-firefighters-death-insomnia-shift-work-sleep-apnea/

 

* Subject to Waiting Periods and other conditions.

Please note: some information in this article has been compiled from material obtained externally. Although we make every effort to ensure information is correct at the time of publication, we accept no responsibility for its accuracy. Health-related articles are intended for general information only and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please consult your doctor.