Due to the nature of police work, rotation schedules are not going away anytime soon. If you read our last blog post, “3 Changes to your Rotation Schedule that Can Save Lives,” you know full-well that poorly planned rotations can be fatal to your officers.
A study conducted by Harvard researchers and the National Sleep Foundation found that extended periods of shift work raise the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, insulin resistance and mental illness. Not to mention the cognitive impairment and fatigue that many officers experience on a daily basis.
However, there are steps that officers can take to reduce the impact rotation schedules can have on their mental and physical well-being. In fact, these rules should be printed and posted in your department to ensure that officer sleep hygiene is part of your agency’s culture:
1. Adjust Sleep Schedule 3-5 Days in Advance
Back when I was a lieutenant at Tigard PD, I was finding that many of my officers would try to adjust to shift changes cold turkey. The problem was that their performance and well-being would be noticeably impaired for several weeks following a rotation.
We found that officers who gradually adjusted their sleep schedule in advance of an expected shift rotation would only experience a small hiccup in performance and their bodies would quickly adapt.
For example, you are currently working a 15:00-23:00 shift and you normally sleep from 02:00-10:00. In three days your shift is rotating to 18:00-02:00. This is how you would adjust your sleep schedule:
- 3 Days Before – sleep 03:00-11:00
- 2 Days Before – sleep 04:00-12:00
- 1 Day Before – sleep 05:00-13:00
As a rule of thumb the more drastic the shift change, the more days you need to allow yourself for adjustment.
2. Make Exercise a Habit
Believe me when I say I know the feeling of lethargy that hits all officers coming off a long shift coupled with OT. The last thing on your mind is going for a run or hitting the gym. However, regular moderate exercise has a myriad of health benefits that will go a long way for your career in the police force.
I am not talking about running marathons or pursuing extreme powerlifting, but simply choosing a form of exercise you enjoy and incorporating it in your lifestyle. Whether it is before or after your shift, 30 minutes of exercise 5 times a week is all you need. It helps control your weight, regulate hormones, boost energy and improve the quality of your sleep.
Great Falls Police Department has taken this concept a step further and implemented a 3-part wellness program. Officers who enroll must complete weekly physical and mental training goals and take an annual physical/wellness check. If officers complete these three requirements they earn 2-days off paid time. Talk about making exercise part of the culture!
3. Moderate Caffeine and Alcohol Intake
From personal observation, I noticed that officer coffee consumption went way up every rotation period at Tigard. Although it can definitely help with wakefulness and mental acuity, consumption should be limited to 1-2 cups a day and stop being consumed 6 hours before bedtime.
The same goes for alcohol. Although you may feel like a glass of wine relaxes you, consuming it too close to bedtime actually disrupts your REM sleep cycle and can make you feel groggier long term.
4. Forward Clock Rotations
If your department isn’t doing so already, make sure rotations follow a clockwise pattern. This simply means that your succeeding shift is later than your current one. For example, if your current shift is 24:00-08:00, then the succeeding one could be 08:00-16:00 (but not the other way around!).
Philadelphia PD switched from backwards to forward rotations and experienced a 40% reduction in accidents and a 25% reduction in officers falling asleep on duty. You can learn more by clicking here.
5. Avoid Blue Light
One of the last things I usually do before retiring for the night is check my phone for emails, watch a few YouTube videos and then hopefully doze off. This behavior is actually counterproductive if you are trying to fall asleep. Electronics emit blue light, which suppresses the production and release of melatonin in our bodies. Melatonin is a sleep-promoting substance that peaks before bedtime and helps to regulate our circadian rhythms.
It’s a hard habit to break, but if you are adjusting to a shift change or simply having trouble falling or staying asleep avoid all electronics 2 hours before bedtime. If you simply can’t live without your electronics in the evening, try downloading F.lux for your computer and a blue light filter app like Twilight for your phone. These free apps control your screen and blocks blue light in the evening hours.
For those of you who are really serious about minimizing blue light exposure, there are even sunglasses and lenses you can purchase that claim to block blue light. Consumer Reports ran a test on three different “blue blocker glasses” and found that the relatively inexpensive ($8) Uvex Skyper (orange-tinted) safety eyewear cut out almost all blue light (You can purchase them on Amazon by clicking here). Your family may give you some funny looks, but trying wearing them for a few hours before bed and see if it makes a difference to you. For $8 you can’t go wrong.