Police officers have a difficult and sometimes dangerous job. The public relies upon police forces to protect our lives, solve crimes, and be role models for our communities. But unfortunately, there is one threat to cops’ safety that can’t be locked up.
A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association involving 4,957 municipal, state, county and other law enforcement officers across North America revealed that 40 percent of participants screened positive for a sleep disorder and most were undiagnosed and untreated. The most common sleep disorder found was Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). Moderate to severe insomnia affected 6.5 percent, and 28.5 percent of police officers showed excessive sleepiness.
These numbers are especially alarming considering the sensitive nature of police work and the long hours spent behind the wheel. “Sleep disorders expose individuals to increased sleepiness, which elevates the risk of motor vehicle crashes. We found that excessive sleepiness is common in police officers and that almost half report having fallen asleep while driving and about 25 percent report that it occurs at least monthly,” said Shantha Rajaratnam, PhD, co-lead author of the research paper. “Positive screening for a sleep disorder increased the risk of falling asleep while driving after work, depression and burnout by more than two-fold.”
But the results of the study yielded some optimistic insights as well. Massachusetts State Police (MSP) were found to have a significantly lower risk for OSA than the municipal or nationwide police officers, who were nearly 60 to 80 percent more likely to screen positive for OSA. The researchers hypothesize that the comprehensive on-the-job physical fitness program implemented years ago by the MSP may account for the lower rates of both OSA and obesity (a major risk factor for OSA) observed among this group. Recognition and identification of sleep disorders as health risks can help other departments across the country to develop similar programs and keep our civil servants safe.