Many Cops Have Troubled Sleep

Problem impairs judgment, increases risk for accidents, experts say

WEDNESDAY, June 13, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Sleep disorders strike more than a third of police officers, new research suggests.

Unrecognized sleep disorders affect health and can lead to chronic sleep loss, which can increase the risk of accidents and injuries. These problems are common in shift workers such as police officers, many of whom experience chronic sleep loss because of ever-shifting schedules, the researchers noted. This latest finding was to be presented this week at the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in Minneapolis.

"This study is long overdue," said Michael L. Perlis, director of the Sleep Research Laboratory at the University of Rochester, who was not involved in the study. "The police force is probably one of the largest populations of shift workers and most vulnerable to sleep loss and sleep deprivation."

In the study, Shantha M.W. Rajaratnam, from Harvard Medical School, and colleagues, collected data on 4,471 police officers. The researchers asked the officers about sleep problems such as obstructive sleep apnea alone, insomnia, restless legs syndrome, shift work sleep disorder and narcolepsy.

They found that 38.4 percent reported having a sleep disorder. Among the officers, 35.1 had sleep apnea, 6.8 percent had insomnia, 0.7 percent had restless leg syndrome, 2 percent had shift work sleep disorder and 0.5 percent had narcolepsy.

"Based on these data, sleep disorders appear to be highly prevalent in the present sample of police officers," Rajaratnam said in a prepared statement. "Sleep disorder screening and treatment programs may potentially improve police officer health, safety and productivity."

Lack of sleep affects physical health, emotional well-being, mental abilities, productivity and performance. Recent studies have linked the lack of sleep with serious health problems such as depression, obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

"Sleep deprivation and the cognitive impairments that come with sleep problems coupled with the difficulty of their work -- the need for snap judgments that may mean life and death -- makes identification and treatment an urgent thing for this group of workers," Perlis said.

More information

For more on sleep disorders and insomnia, check out the The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

SOURCES: Michael L. Perlis, Ph.D., director, Sleep Research Laboratory, department of psychiatry, University of Rochester, N.Y.; June 12, 2007, presentation, Associated Professional Sleep Societies, annual meeting, Minneapolis
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