December 20th, 2011
04:01 PM ET
A new study finds that many police officers might be better at their jobs, if they had more and better sleep.
Researchers screened officers for sleeping disorders and found that 40% had at least one disorder, such as obstructive sleep apnea or insomnia.
Those with sleeping disorders were 51% more likely to fall asleep while driving, 63% more likely to violate safety protocols, 43% more likely to make administrative errors, and 22% more likely to be injured on the job, compared to officers reporting no sleeping disorders.
People had more bad things to say, too, about police officers who happen to sleep poorly, with citizens filing 35% more complaints against those with sleeping disorders.
Nearly half of all police officers surveyed for the study reported having fallen asleep at least one time while driving, while one-quarter of all officers said that this happens once or twice a month.
"It's an extraordinarily high number of sleeping disorders," says Dr. Charles Czeisler, Chief of the Division of Sleep Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital. "The main message is that sleep disorders are very prevalent in the police and I'm sure the general population is not far behind."
Obesity, explains Czeisler, is as essential to obstructive sleep apnea as location is to real estate, and that principle holds true in his study. About 34% of police officers reported being obese, and the same number suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, though some have one condition and not the other.
"The next step that we're going to do is an even larger sample," says Czeisler, "and find out if we can decrease these adverse consequences with screening, a treatment program, and education."
Officers with obstructive sleep apnea also showed higher rates of diabetes, depression, cardiovascular disease, emotional exhaustion, and anxiety disorders.
"We've learned a lot about sleep and sleep medicine. There's an explosion of science in this field," explains Dr. Michael Grandner, a researcher at the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology in the Division of Sleep Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania who is not associated with the study.
"But what this paper points out is that this isn't translating to the field. It'd be interesting to see the cost-benefit analysis of investing in the police officer's health."
The 4,957 study participants were recruited from the Philadelphia Police Department and Massachusetts State Police. Of the participants, 82% were men, 85% were white, and 79% were overweight or obese.
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