A survey of police officers finds that about 40% have a sleep disorder, which is associated with an increased risk of adverse health, safety, and performance outcomes. The findings appear in JAMA.

"Police officers frequently work extended shifts and long work weeks, which in other occupations are associated with increased risk of errors, unintended injuries, and motor vehicle crashes. According to data through the year 2003, more officers are killed by unintended adverse events than during the commission of felonies. It has been hypothesized that fatigue—likely due to reduced duration and quality of sleep and untreated sleep disorders—may play an important role in police officer unintentional injuries and fatalities. To date, the effect of sleep disorders on police officer health, safety, and performance has not been systematically investigated," the authors write.

The researchers examined the risk of major sleep disorders and associated adverse outcomes among North American police officers. The study consisted of police officers participating in either an online or an on-site screening (n=4,957) and monthly follow-up surveys (n=3,545 officers) between July 2005 and December 2007. A total of 3,693 officers in the United States and Canada participated in the online screening survey, and 1,264 officers from a municipal police department and a state police department participated in the on-site survey. The average age of the officers was 38.5 years, with an average of 12.7 years of police service.

A total of 2,003 of 4,957 participants (40.4%) screened positive for at least one sleep disorder. Of the total group, 1,666 (33.6%) screened positive for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), the most common disorder, followed by 281 (6.5%) with moderate to severe insomnia; and 269 (5.4%) with shift work disorder (14.5% of those who worked the night shift). Positive screening for any sleep disorder was associated with increased risk of self-reported health- and safety-related outcomes: 203 (10.7%) of those who tested positive for a sleep disorder reported having depression versus 37 (4.4%) of those who did not screen positive; 399 (34.1%) of the positive-screen group reported burnout (emotional exhaustion) versus 89 (17.9%) in the negative-screen group, and 388 (20%) in the positive-screen group reported falling asleep while driving versus 66 (7.9%) in the negative-screen group. Positive OSA screening was also associated with a diagnosis of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high caffeine consumption.

The researchers also found that 28.5% of participants had screening scores that indicated that they experienced excessive sleepiness. Of the survey respondents, 45.9% reported having nodded off or fallen asleep while driving; 56.9% of these reported falling asleep while driving at least 1 to 2 times a month; and 307 (13.5%, representing 6.2% of the total group) reported falling asleep while driving at least 1 to 2 times a week.

Compared to those who screened negative, participants who screened positive for any sleep disorder were more likely to report making important administrative errors; falling asleep while driving; making errors or committing safety violations due to fatigue; having uncontrolled anger toward a citizen or suspect; incurring citizen complaints; having absenteeism; or falling asleep during meetings.