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Many police have sleep disorders, a risk to their health: study

December 20, 2011|By Jeannine Stein, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • About 40% of police officers in a study were found to have at least one sleep disorder, which may affect their health and safety.
About 40% of police officers in a study were found to have at least one sleep… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)

There may be a lot of sleepy police officers out there, a study finds, with about 40% of them having at least one sleep disorder.

A study released today in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. looked at sleep disorders and how they affected the health and safety of 4,957 police officers in the U.S. and Canada. Among the officers 40.4% were found to have at least one sleep disorder, and 33.6% had obstructive sleep apnea, a condition in which a blocked or narrowed airway causes breathing to stop and start during sleep.

Having any sleep disorder was linked with a greater risk of health and safety risks; 10.7% of those who had a sleep disorder had depression versus 4.4% of those with normal sleep. More in the sleep disorder group also reported feeling burnout and falling asleep while driving, in addition to having more gastrointestinal and anxiety disorders and taking medication for insomnia, than those who didn't have the disorder.

Officers who had obstructive sleep apnea were also more apt to be diagnosed with diabetes, have cardiovascular disease and consume more caffeine than those who didn't have the condition.

Among all study participants 45.9% said they had nodded off or fallen asleep while driving. Of those, 26.1% said they'd fallen asleep while driving at least once or twice a month, and 13.5% had fallen asleep while driving at least once or twice a week.

Having a sleep disorder also affected the officers' work. Those who had any type of sleep disorder were more likely to make important administrative errors, commit safety violations because they were tired and have uncontrolled anger toward a suspect or citizen.

Obstructive sleep apnea is sometimes caused by excess weight, and in this study population  79.3% of officers were overweight or obese, and 33.5% were obese.

The study authors said that more research is needed to see if programs that target sleep disorder prevention, screen for sleep disorders and offer treatment can cut down the risk of health and safety problems.   

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