How you can get more and better sleep off duty
There is no shortage of proof that correctional officers are working fatigued — evidenced by the sometimes fatal errors that occur as a result
By David Blake and Richard Shane, Ph.D.
During your next round, will you erroneously cause someone’s death due to a lack of sleep? This question — inflammatory as it may be — is pertinent, and based on a depth of scientific evidence on the negative effects of fatigue.
The problem spans decades and is formally recognized in several career fields — pilots and long-haul truck drivers, for example — who have created specific rules and working conditions in response.
Unfortunately, law enforcement continues to be slow in responding to the science pointed directly at the field since the 1990s.
A History of Trouble
There is no shortage of proof that correctional officers are working fatigued — evidenced by the sometimes fatal errors that occur as a result.
Some studies have shown 40 percent of officers suffer from at least one sleep disorder and most aren’t even aware of the disorder (Shantha M. W. Rajaratnam, et al., 2011). While this staggering statistic provides proof many officers lack appropriate sleep, other empirical evidence is even more alarming.
Officers in another large study overwhelming reported that they routinely feel fatigued, drive while “drowsy,” and even have fallen asleep while driving. A recent study involving 277 officers showed that 69 percent of those studied committed fatigue-related error while working.
The bottom line is that a lack of sleep results in higher rates of accidents and injuries — impaired thinking, reaction time deficiencies; increased health problems and costs, pain, stress, anxiety, depression, irritability; and impaired personal relationships.
A recent study has even shown that moderate levels of fatigue have a significant effect on an officer’s ability to react and make correct decisions in shoot / don’t shoot situations.
A Solution Exists
Here’s the good news: Getting good sleep is one change that can have a positive effect on all the areas mentioned above. While many organizations are not addressing the issue of fatigue, you can do so personally.
But too often, the ways in which people have attempted to achieve better sleep are unsuccessful. Do any of these techniques sound familiar?
• Relax your entire body
• Deep breathing
• Try to quiet your mind
Do you remember trying these techniques as you lay in bed staring at the ceiling and becoming all the more frustrated — actually increasing stress and the probability you won’t fall asleep anytime soon?
But there is a method that relieves stress and allows you to ease into sleep. It may sound unusual, but your tongue is a central switch in your nervous system. Stress causes most people to press their tongue against the roofs of their mouths. Periodically be aware of your tongue, both during the day and at bedtime. If you find your tongue tense, allow it to be just a little softer. It can rest anywhere in your mouth, even lightly touching the roof of your mouth — just not pressing.
Allowing your tongue to be slightly calmer can help calm your mind, emotions and body, helping you ease toward sleep.
When your mind and emotions are active, there’s usually tension in your body. Instead of trying to calm your mind and emotions, gently be aware of any body tension without trying to make it change. Gently being aware of the body sensation helps it gradually begin to become softer and looser by itself.
You then feel calmness deep in your body and can begin to rest in it, like resting a soft pillow inside you. Your mind and emotions enjoy that feeling and become calmer without trying. Your body knows this feeling and continues easing toward sleep.
These are just introductory steps to the Sleep Easily Method. You can learn more by checking out the Sleep Well video here www.sleepeasily.com/police. It will guide you through a brief exercise that gives you a simple way to calm your mind, emotions and body, leading to sleep. You can also obtain a free SleepGuide book download, which has lots of resources to help you sleep.
The book includes a simple and effective way to relieve tension and trauma. The book also gives you information about sleeping in the midst of shift work, sleeping in noisy environments, lifestyle changes to support good sleep, how to safely and comfortably reduce and eliminate the need for sleep medication, and much more.
About the Authors
Richard Shane, Ph.D., developer of the Sleep Easily Method, is the Behavioral Sleep Specialist for New West Physicians, Golden, Colorado, with 85 physicians serving 170,000 patients. From 2010 through 2013, he served as the Behavioral Sleep Specialist for Exempla-Lutheran Medical Center Sleep Center in Denver. Colorado. He has treated more than 2,000 insomnia patients referred by over 140 physicians and health professionals. Dr. Shane is a Member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
David Blake, M.Sc., is a retired California police officer whose career included duties within SWAT, Force Options Unit, Field Training, Gangs, and Narcotics. He currently teaches Human Factors and Force Encounters Analysis for the California Training Institute and is an adjunct professor of criminal justice, a police academy instructor, and owner of the Blake Consulting and Training Group. Blake holds a BS in Criminal Justice Management and a M.Sc. in Psychology.
- Officer Safety