Local police say nights shifts aren't detrimental to health

BY AMY SKARNULIS | JULY 23, 2012 6:30 AM

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Iowa City and UI police officials say their respective departments make accommodations to combat the possibility of poor job performance and health-related issues that may arise with those working night shifts.

A University of Iowa study titled "The effect of work shift and sleep duration on various aspects of police officers' health" was conducted by Sandra Ramey, a UI assistant professor of nursing. She observed three eastern Iowa police departments and found that police officers working the night shift are more likely to get less sleep, which could cause health and job performance problems.

Not all officers agree with the findings.

Iowa City police Sgt. Chris Akers has worked the night shift for almost 25 years as a police officer, and he said he hasn't felt his health or job performance are suffering because of it.

"Usually for me, I sleep as much as I like," he said. "The beauty of the night shift is it's generally accepted by the people around you."

Ramey and her team studied 85 male police officers from three different eastern Iowa police departments ranging in age from 22 to 63.

Richard Lewis, a senior writer/editor for the University News Services, said officers working the night shift were more likely to be sleep deprived because the shift is generally 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.

"[The study] cuts across all shifts, but what they found was that the folks who work the evening and the night shifts are more likely to get less sleep," he said. "[That can lead to problems] in health and job performance, especially when you're in an occupation as stressful as police work."

Ramey said after interviewing officers, what she heard most is that they will get off the night shift at around 7:30 or 8 a.m. but they have to be back at 11 a.m. for a court appearance.

According to a UI press release about the study, 83 percent of police on the evening or night shift reported having to report to duty early the next morning at least occasionally.

"Court appearances absolutely [keeps officers from sleeping]," Akers said. "It's nobody's fault — it's just how it is. It really does mess with you a little bit."

Akers said officers try their best to make sure officers who have an early court appearance are able to sleep. He said instead of getting off at 7 a.m. they sometimes are able to get off at 3 to go home and sleep before having to be at court in the morning.

"We make accommodations," he said. "We try to help facilitate that so it's easier on us as people."

The UI police make accommodations by rotating officers every six months between overnight shifts and day shifts.

UI police Lt. Eric Werling said his last rotation was the overnight shift and he feels he did sleep less when he worked the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift, but he did not experience any health problems, only less time for healthy activities.

"Being tired [at work] means I want to get to bed more quickly," he said. "So I don't go work out and that kind of stuff."

While she isn't claiming there is a specific connection between working the night shift and having health problems, Ramey said, it's important to study relationships with sleep and other risk factors.

"About 80 percent of officers are overweight or obese," she said. "What comes before [that, are] risk factors like their lack of sleep and need to cover three shifts every day."

Although Ramey only studied officers from Iowa in this particular study, she said the results found are relevant around the country.

"I don't think what our police departments in eastern Iowa are experiencing is different than any other police departments," she said.

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