Sleep and changing shifts

From the Calibre Press Street Survival Newsline

Shift changes are typically an unavoidable part of police work. They're hard on the body, the mind, the career and the family. And they take a serious--and dangerous--toll on sleep.

Sleeplessness can result in blurred vision, difficulty focusing, tunnel vision, dangerous driving, diminished response to visual and audible stimuli (stop lights, car horns...), decreased short-term memory, irritability...all things that jeopardize your safety.

Here are some helpful hints for staying alert on duty and sleeping off duty.

To stay alert on patrol after a shift change

Expose yourself to frequent blasts of fresh air by opening the car windows and keeping the vents open.

Pull over and get out of the car every once in awhile to stretch.

Make a conscious effort to look around--try checking your car mirrors and instrument panel at regular intervals.

If working midnights, walk into well-lighted places at certain points in your shift. The bright light will compensate for the lack of sunlight and cause your body to invigorate itself.

Eat right. Studies have shown an increased consumption of the mineral Boron is an excellent means of enhancing your alertness (the best sources are pears, grapes, tomatoes, apples, nuts and raisins). Eating fast foods and drinking coffee will temporarily increase your alertness, but will cause serious problems getting to sleep after the shift.

When it's time to sleep

Wear sunglasses on the way home after a night shift. Bright sunlight will fool your body into thinking it's time to wake up...when it's really time to get ready to sleep.

Give yourself a chance to mentally and physically wind down after your shift. Deep breathing exercises and positive visualization are very effective. Also, designate a period of time (try about 30 minutes) as your "worry time". Make lists of the things you have to do, create plans to get them done and when your time is up...STOP THINKING.

Don't use alcohol as a means of making yourself tired. Although you may feel like you're helping yourself relax, you're actually increasing your chances of fragmented, restless sleep.

Don't go to bed stuffed or starving. Eat right at the right times. Avoid eating just before you're scheduled to get off duty or just before getting into bed.

Start and follow a routine before going to bed (brush your teeth, put on your pajamas, turn off the house lights...). This becomes a cue for your body to start getting tired, no matter the time of day you're doing it.

Make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible. A healthy investment might be a set of very heavy window shades that block out all incoming light.

Set your alarm clock, then hide it along with your watch. Time pressure takes a serious toll on efforts to fall asleep. The less tempted or able you are to glance at the time, the more likely you are to relax.

Keep your room at a comfortable temperature. Temperatures that are too cold or too hot will agitate you and make sleeping difficult.

Try using "white noise", like a fan or a commercial "sleep sound" machine, to filter distracting outside noise.

If you can't sleep, GET OUT OF THE BEDROOM. You need to be sure your body recognizes the bedroom as a place to sleep, not a place to toss, turn and worry. Go to another room and try listening to relaxing music, taking a warm bath or reading (in moderate, not bright, light). When you feel yourself getting tired, GO BACK TO BED. Avoid falling asleep in a chair or on the couch. Again, you need to train your body to recognize your bedroom, not the chair, as the place to sleep.

After you're finished sleeping...GET UP. Decreasing the amount of time you're awake in bed will increase your ability to fall asleep when it's time.

Sleep well...and stay safe!

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