Focus on Officer Wellness

Importance of Sleep to Overall Health 

By Michael Kelly

A stock image of a female laying on a couch.

Wellness in law enforcement is still gaining attention but varies vastly by jurisdiction. The focus on general well-being began in the 1970s and 80s with an emphasis on physical fitness through practices like aerobics. Disciplines such as meditation, yoga, and tai chi also became popular, providing a mental component to well-being.

Another element of wellness that is often overlooked is the simple and necessary act of sleep. Law enforcement has long been plagued by a lack of it. While other practices are necessary for overall well-being, sleep is even more vital for officers, both on and off the job. 

Widespread Deficiency

Today, law enforcement officers and their civilian counterparts are perpetually busy with information, tasks, and engagements. This makes it difficult to sleep well or enough, and deprivation is one of the biggest struggles officers face. Sleep disorders — typically associated with poor health, performance, and safety outcomes — are twice as prevalent among officers compared to the general population, and one study suggested that they remain largely undiagnosed and untreated.1

Numerous sleep issues are potentially exacerbated for officers when they work part-time jobs or overtime shifts for additional income or as part of a critical investigation. This is detrimental to their health.

Athletes need sleep to achieve and maintain peak conditioning. One professional bodybuilder, as part of his preparation for the first-ever 500-kilogram (approximately 1,100-pound) deadlift, spent weeks sleeping around eight hours a night and taking one or two naps per day.2

Personnel in law enforcement, military, and rescue professions are called “tactical athletes” by those in the tactical strength and conditioning community. Officers require specific physical training strategies aimed at optimizing their occupational physical performance.3 They must perform their tasks with potentially no notice and often in a sleep-deprived state. To complicate matters, while the work hours for many professionals are standardized and regulated, no such structure exists for police officers.4

One sleep researcher summed up the problem:

Police work is the one profession in which we would want all practitioners to have adequate and healthful sleep to perform their duties at peak alertness levels. Not only is fatigue associated with individual misery, but it can also lead to counterproductive behavior. It is well known that impulsiveness, aggression, irritability, and angry outbursts are associated with sleep deprivation. It is totally reprehensible that the cops we expect to protect us, come to our aid, and respond to our needs when victimized should be allowed to have the worst fatigue and sleep conditions of any profession in our society.5

The World Health Organization has recognized night-time shift work as a probable carcinogen.6 Also, one study identified a 24% increase in heart attacks after the beginning of daylight saving time deprives many across the world of only one hour of sleep. Conversely, the same study found a 21% reduction in heart attacks when the end of daylight saving time provides an extra hour.7

Because law enforcement officers work nights, they may attempt to readjust to a regular schedule for their days off. Many choose to stay up after their final shift of the week to return to a normal pattern with their families. In addition, they may only sleep a few hours on their last day off to maximize time with loved ones and return to work in an already-sleep-deprived state. This does not create a small one-hour disruption to normal circadian rhythm like daylight saving time; rather, it results in a huge sleep deficit.

Needed Action

“While other practices are necessary for overall well-being, sleep is even more vital for officers, both on and off the job.” 

Correcting this sleep deficiency among agencies falls on supervisors and leaders. Over the last two decades, the law enforcement profession has made improvements, but there is still work to do.

Leaders must limit working hours in a 24-hour period, along with monitoring the total hours worked in a week. This also requires the department to consider officers’ outside employment — policy should dictate that they report any off-duty jobs and the hours worked.

Agencies must also recognize when someone may not have slept well before a shift and send them home if necessary. A room where officers could sleep in the middle of their shift could also be a viable option. While this would have been scoffed at in years past, agencies’ outlooks are moving in the right direction. An open-minded approach toward wellness could make things like this commonplace. Adjustments should be made for personnel on nights when necessary.

Years ago, a fellow officer was suffering from a staph infection. While working nights, he was treating an open wound to allow it to heal. His position was typically always indoors and at a desk, but it still seemed absurd he was at work in such a medical state. Those healing from disease or injury should not be working nights as research suggests a disrupted circadian rhythm interrupts our biology in many ways.8


Agencies want their officers to make effective split-second decisions on the job. They also desire for personnel to have healthy and productive home lives and live long after leaving the profession. To accomplish these goals, departments must help officers obtain sufficient rest.

“Correcting this sleep deficiency among agencies falls on supervisors and leaders.”

Lieutenant Kelly serves with the Mesquite, Texas, Police Department and is a graduate of FBI National Academy Session 282. He can be reached at


1 Beth Pearsall, “Sleep Disorders, Work Shifts and Officer Wellness,” National Institute of Justice Journal 270 (June 2012): 36-39,
2 Eddie Hall, featured in Eddie: Strongman, directed by Matt Bell (2015: Wolf Shoulder Films).
3 Dennis E. Scofield and Joseph R. Kardouni, “The Tactical Athlete: A Product of 21st Century Strength and Conditioning,” Strength and Conditioning Journal 37, no. 4 (August 2015): 2-7,
4 Bryan Vila and Dennis Jay Kenney, “Tired Cops: The Prevalence and Potential Consequences of Police Fatigue,” National Institute of Justice Journal 248 (2002): 17-21,
5 William C. Dement, as quoted in Vila and Kenney, 20.
6 World Health Organization, International Agency for Research on Cancer, Night Shift Work, IARC Monographs on the Identification of Carcinogenic Hazards to Humans, volume 124 (Lyon, FR: International Agency for Research on Cancer, 2020),
7 Amneet Sandhu, Milan Seth, and Hitinder S. Gurm, “Daylight Savings Time and Myocardial Infarction,” Open Heart 1, no. 1 (2014): 1-5, doi:10.1136/openhrt-2013-000019.
8 For instance, see Sujana Reddy, Vamsi Reddy, and Sandeep Sharma, “Physiology, Circadian Rhythm,” in StatPearls (Treasure Island, FL: StatPearls, 2022), last updated May 8, 2022,