Sleep is critical for sustaining the mental agility you need for success during crowd management and other high stress operations.37 Even simple tasks such as driving, communicating, and maintaining alertness can be impaired by inadequate sleep (anything less than seven – nine hours every 24 hours).38 Planning for sleep is an individual and organizational priority. In a 2014 study, over 50% of police officers examined were found to have poor sleep quality.39

A 2012 study examined the impact of shift lengths on police officers’ performance, sleep, health, and quality of life. It found that there are “disadvantages related to 12-hour shifts, including greater reported levels of sleepiness and lower levels of alertness while at work as compared to those on 8-hour shifts. Because past researchers have indicated that people underestimate their fatigue levels (e.g., Rosekind & Schwartz, 1988), this finding should be reason for further concern.”40 Additionally, “given the prior warnings by researchers related to fatigue in positions of public security, agencies should be concerned with managing fatigue in extended shifts, particularly those of 12- hours or more, inclusive of overtime work.”40

Civil unrest can create situations where inadequate sleep becomes the norm. When you and your fellow officers do not get enough sleep, you accumulate a sleep debt that must be paid off but realistically cannot be made up. Therefore, it is critical that you make sleep a top priority as possible.

Facts About Insufficient Sleep

Effects and Impairments

  • Reduced ability to judge and understand the environment
  • Depleted situational awareness
  • Decreased ability to concentrate41
  • Diminished decision-making skills42
  • Inefficient coordination of team and individual tactics
  • Ineffective use of de-escalation skills
  • Increased risk of stress-related injuries

Signs and Symptoms

  • Struggling to stay away while driving to and from work, during breaks, or on the line43
  • Attention lapses
  • Irritability, decreased initiative, or limited motivation
  • Difficulty understanding or tracking information

Sleep problem types

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Difficulty staying asleep
  • Nightmares (especially COVID-19 nightmares: bringing it home, having a fever, among others)
  • Panic attacks in sleep
  • Feeling exhausted even after sleeping

Overcoming Sleep Deprivation While Maintaining Shift Work

In less than perfect situations, such as when you are working overtime or maintaining shift work, and you’re not able to go home to get a good night’s sleep, try to:44

Sleep Hygiene in Optimal Situations

In ideal circumstances, you’ll be able to practice healthy sleep hygiene and avoid significant sleep deficits. To increase beneficial sleep habits, consider the following best practices:

Sleep and Alcohol

Related Publications

ABCs of Good sleeping habits

Valor Officer Safety and Wellness Program, Bureau of Justice Assistance

Always Be Consistent. This poster highlights the good sleep habits that you can follow to have quality sleep.

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An Empty Well Gives No Water

Valor Officer Safety and Wellness Program, Bureau of Justice Assistance

An empty well gives no water. This poster reinforces the need for self-care to “help fill your reserves.” Keep self-care at the forefront with this poster that you can hang in your locker or other high visibility locations.

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