After the Webinar: How to Manage Officer Fatigue and Improve Sleep. Q&A with Dr. Lois James

Webinar presenter Dr. Lois James answered a number of your questions after her webinar, How to Manage Officer Fatigue and Improve Sleep: Experiment Results. Here are just a few of her responses.


Audience Question: What’s the best way to transition from working day shift to graveyard shift? And then we’ve actually had a couple of people asking similar variations of working day shift and going back and forth and still trying to have a life with family. You know when you’re working an opposite shift. What’s your best advice for this? 

Dr. Lois James: The recommendations that I usually give. I have a lot of these kinds of plans, you know, kind of how what your sleep should look like while you’re on days, what it should look like during your transition period, what it should look like when you’re on nights, and so on. A major part of it and I know this sounds odd, because you think well, how can you have a routine? A major part of it is routine, especially when you’re on nights knowing what you’re on-duty sleep is going to look like and what your transition to off-duty is going to look like. And then what your off-duty is going to look like, and then transition back to on-duty. When you think specifically about moving from one shift schedule to another, like, if you’re going from days to nights, that would be one of the times when melatonin can be useful. I never really recommend taking melatonin long term, in part, because the more that you take, the less that your body produces, and it starts to become less effective. And it can have some side effects, you know. Melatonin can mess up your dreams a little bit. It can have some side effects, for sure. So, but in a kind in a short term like if you’re going from days to nights, and you just need it, for you know a 24-hour period, or a couple of 24-hour periods, just to acclimate you. Then Melatonin is a is a good one, for sure.


Audience Question: This sounds like a great training. Is this training model available? Or do you have any supplemental materials? Or what’s the status of being able to roll this kind of training out nationwide? Or what should we anticipate? 

Dr. Lois James: Yeah. So, one thing that’s important to note with it, with the training itself is that it is important for it to be not necessarily tailored to a department, but what works in a really large urban agency might need to be tweaked a little bit for a smaller department, for example. Different shift schedules need to be taken into account. So, unfortunately, it’s not quite as simple as just packaging up the training and just distributing it everywhere. Typically, we work with departments to make sure that we’re providing them with the best possible training for their organization and community needs that said there are a great deal of resources that I have put out that are fairly universal. So, I mean, if the information on fatigue countermeasures, the information on sleep hygiene. In fact, I’ve done a Justice Clearinghouse webinar specific to that, right? So, I mean, all of that information is out there. But I would urge you. If you’re really thinking about employing fatigue management training, reach out to me, reach out to somebody who’s doing it, and just make sure that the information that you’re giving your people is the best possible for their needs.


Audience Question: On how people feel at work when they’re tired, with a busy, urban, noisy agency, is it really feasible to nap at work effectively? Or how would you go about incorporating, napping, or a napping policy at work? 

Dr. Lois James: Yeah, on duty napping. I’m so glad somebody asked, that it is you know, it’s definitely something that I advocate for. I speak with a lot of leadership, really trying to convince them of the benefits of on-duty napping policies. They’re still very, very few departments that have them. So, when I spoke about strategic napping within the context of the module that that was actually kind of at-home napping versus on-duty napping because Seattle doesn’t have a specific napping policy yet. But I do work with departments quite a bit on the benefits. There’s always this fear within an agency that people are going to abuse it or that it’s going to end up resulting in not enough people on the street, and so on and so forth. If anything, what we see with the departments that have implemented a napping policy is, they tend to get a little bit underused. But you know and I mean again, some of the information around napping is so critical there that you have two major types of nap. You have what we consider to be a power nap, and what we consider to be a restorative nap. The power nap is around 20 minutes and the restorative nap is in and around 90 minutes. There are very specific reasons for that based on the science of sleep, sleep cycles, and the phases that we go through, and both of those naps are designed to try and minimize the risk of waking up from deep sleep, which is when you experience that sleep inertia, which, again, is what managers sometimes worry about. They’re like, “Okay, what if an officer is taking a nap? And then, you know, and then they’re woken up, and they’re really groggy, and they make a mistake,” right? And this is this is not just specific to public safety. This is a concern that. You know that hospitals have, and so on, and so forth. So, there are some. There are some ways that you can build into your nap policy. You know some things that you can do to try and prevent the likelihood of that happening.

Host: Well, that’s so interesting too, because hospitals do have sleeping rooms where doctors and nurses can go grab a power nap or go get some sleep right?

Dr. Lois James: For the most part not nurses, there’s a lot of cultural weirdness about napping. Even in public safety, right? And part of it, for sure is part of it is around shift length, right? I mean, fire, they typically work longer shifts than officers, right? Physicians typically work longer shifts than nurses. But there is still a cultural component where, you know, I mean in a lot of hospitals napping for nurses is a fireable offense and yet is actively encouraged and expected of physicians and surgeons. And in the same way, in a lot of departments, napping is absolutely like, “Cannot do it,” whereas with other public safety organizations, it’s expected. So, part of it is a kind of a cultural component as well.


Audience Question: How would you go about trying to socialize and enculturate or even get a napping policy started at your organization?

Dr. Lois James: Part of it is looking at examples of people who have done it and done it well. So, Henderson is an example. And even outside of this country. So, some divisions within the RCMP, for example. So, some places that we have worked directly with now have napping policies. So, going to examples that have done it well. Going to examples from other industries that have done it. Well, you know, aviation has really led the way in fatigue risk management and strategic napping and napping policies. And then, you know, I mean just reaching out, reaching out to people like me, reaching out to people who are in this space, and just saying, “Hey, I need some help. Where should I go about implementing a policy like this? And how can I go about tracking it and making sure it’s not being overused? And see if it’s making a difference.”


Audience Question: In your data collection component, did you happen to also capture organizational data generated by the study per participants that would correspond with those characteristics of fatigue? 

Dr. Lois James: That is a great question. In this study, unfortunately, we did not. However, there are some great questions about what do rates of injuries look like, the kind of the organization like, what was the impact on sick leave, so on and so forth. It is possible that some of that information we might be able to get access to after the fact. There’s just a little bit of kind of questions around confidentiality and kind of what we were allowed to have access to.


Audience Question: With the extended manpower that was used during the riots of 2020, would that have affected your results at all? 

Dr. Lois James: Oh, without question. And that’s kind of where we saw like our control group participants oftentimes were impaired or impacted in terms of they ended up sleeping less, they sometimes had greater experience of PTSD or depression or anxiety. So yes, I mean it definitely would have affected the results. Thankfully. That is the kind of the major purpose of something like a randomized control trial where you can see, okay, well, what’s the temporal effect? What’s just the impact of time? Right? And what is the impact of you know between these 2 groups, between the group that got the training during the timeframe and the group that didn’t so yes, absolutely. In terms of how much affects generalizability. I spoke about that a little bit. You know there’s definitely a little bit of a question there. But I would say for any department that really was impacted by riots. For example, I do think that this is this is very meaningful and relevant information.


Audience Question: What role does poor sleep play in officer use of force, physical or aggressive responses, or even officer accidents? 

Dr. Lois James: Yeah, in terms of use of force and aggressiveness it plays a fairly major role, because the way that sleep restriction, the way that fatigue works is it’s it. It impacts or impairs certain parts of the brain quicker than others. The major part of the brain that’s impacted the quickest by sleep, restriction, and fatigue is the prefrontal cortex. So, in other words, you know the brain reserves kind of more basic function pretty well. But more executive and moralistic decision-making starts to go offline quicker. So, some of the studies that we’ve actually done in our lab show that when we look at what fatigue does to the use of force. We actually see that that officers tend to make decisions to shoot quite a lot quicker when they’re tired, which you know, from a marksmanship perspective, not a problem, but from a decision-making perspective not great, because, of course, with that comes the increased risk of error and you know, getting it wrong. In terms of aggressiveness as well. We’ve done some studies in our lab that have looked at the impact of fatigue and sleep, restriction on officers, willingness, and ability to de-escalate. And we see that you know both of those, especially the willingness to de-escalate is impaired by fatigue. So, we’ve got kind of multiple branching scenarios that we use in our simulators, and we see that officers are less likely to not take it personally. For example, when in the scenario the community member is rude or is abrasive or contempt of cop, or whatever that might look like versus when officers are well rested where they’re typically perfectly able to just kind of not take it personally and still make, you know, attempts to de-escalate.

Host: Well, that brings up a really interesting point, because we’re talking predominantly about the officer side of the equation. There’s also that civilian on the other side of the equation, who may themselves be experiencing sleep deficits of their own, so that must be an incredibly combustible situation. When you have, when you have so many people who are involved, who are sleep-deprived.

Dr. Lois James: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. Sleep deprived, biased, you know. I mean all of the things that we look at with officers stress, PTSD, depression, anxiety. But obviously from the policing profession side of things. The only thing that they have any control over really is their side of the equation. So just kind of making that as positive as possible while acknowledging that, of course, it’s not easy. And there’s going to be many people that they interact with who are going to test that ability to the nth degree. And that’s just the job.


Audience Question: Did the study reflect significant sleep differences for normal stress response, PTSD, and complex PTSD. 

Dr. Lois James: Unfortunately, that is not something that we can really look at with just that PCL 5. So, what we can look at is we can look at was there correlation between scores on PCL 5 and sleep, which certainly there was. Typically, the officers who were who were higher on the PCL 5 were lower on their sleep quantity. And again, that’s very, very typical for what we found in the past. But beyond that, there’s not a ton that we can do with this data outside of a kind of real diagnosis.


Audience Question: Are there better ways, or maybe timing for educating officers? So, for example, should we be including training and information during the onboarding sessions, you know, when you hire a new employee, and in the Academy? Should it be scattered throughout the year? Is it an all of the above response? What about timing and all of that for sleep training? 

Dr. Lois James: Yeah, I mean, I argue that it should be from, you know from day one. It needs to be part of onboarding. It needs to be in the Academy. It needs to be part of part of field training. It needs to be in service. know. Obviously, in this particular talk, I didn’t really go into as much of the actual information around sleep, because I presented that in the past, and this was more about the experiment. But you know, for anybody who’s unfamiliar. Police officers die on average 10 to 20 years earlier than you know, matched municipal workers. So, this is so important that it actually can take, you know, decades off your life. It’s critically important from day one and all the way through. If we want officers that are healthy, that are well-rested, and that are capable of making the best decisions possible, this is a critically important consideration. It’s important for the community. It’s important for the organization, because, you know, we see that when officers are tired, litigation increases, community member complaints increase, all things that we don’t want in a department increase when officers are tired. And then from an actual personnel perspective, you know, fatigue increases the risk of pretty much every disease, all the major ones, at any rate. And like, I said, you know, if we want, if we want our personnel to be able to retire and actually enjoy their retirement. This is a critically important consideration.


Audience Question: Do you think the specific departmental practices in Seattle played a part in the depression and anxiety of officers, and then thus skewed the results? I’ve heard that retention at the Seattle PD has been quite challenging. 

Dr. Lois James: Yes, for sure. It has been incredibly challenging. I do think it. It. It skewed the results in the sense that even at baseline, this was not a particularly well sample. It wouldn’t have made any difference to the actual experimental results. Again, because of the presence of a control group where it might make a difference is okay? Well, so let’s say, you wanted to do a training evaluation in a department where officers were better rested, had lower rates of mental health concerns, and so on and so forth. Would we have seen the same pretty dramatic results? That’s a question that is as of yet, not quite as well known. However, keep in mind that this is the sixth study that we’ve done, and all of the prior studies, including in very remote rural sections of the RCMP have still shown positive benefits. So, I mean, I think that fatigue management training has benefits regardless of whether we would see some of these really extreme results that we saw in Seattle. Maybe not.


Audience Question: Do you see any officers with fibromyalgia diagnosis that contribute to lack of sleep?  What’s the interrelation between fibromyalgia and sleep issues? 

Dr. Lois James: Great question. In this study, we actually didn’t really look at much in the way of kind of physical health concerns. We just used those batteries of questionnaires that were quite specific to mental health. But in prior studies I have, and that has been a question that I’ve included. And it’s definitely, with some of the with some of the surveys and whatnot that we’ve done with officers in this area. It can really affect sleep. It’s not hugely common in policing, but it does seem to be slightly more common than the general public. But yeah, I mean, just from a sleep science perspective, fibromyalgia can be very, very, damaging. Especially to that it can really promote what we call onset insomnia, right? The difficulty falling asleep.


Audience Question: Was there a difference between the 10-hour shifts versus 8-hour shifts and impact on sleep?  And did you track that data?

Dr. Lois James: We did not for this experiment. We didn’t actually look at that, but we have in the past, and there’s many, many studies that have looked at kind of optimal shift lengths. It’s a little bit challenging because it’s a little bit dependent on what the kind of the community needs is, but for the most part, the kind of major recommendation is that 10 h shifts seem to be the least damaging, 8 for sure, you know, can be great. But if you’re working 8, you work more of them in a row. If you’re working 12, sure, you work fewer of them in a row. But obviously, after about the 10 h mark especially for nights, performance kind of starts to tank. So, there’s a lot of consideration. So, there’s a lot to unpack in that question. And then, adding to that the issue of overtime. There’s some departments that are like, well, eights are the worst, because then you can get mandatory for another 8, and that makes it a 16, and so on.  It’s a challenging question, for sure. Extended night shifts are not good.


Audience Question: So, when somebody first gets up in the morning, is it normal, then to still feel tired, or is that a first clue or tip, that you might not be getting enough sleep? 

Dr. Lois James: Yeah, it definitely. It definitely is. There’s a couple of things. So, if your if your alarm is waking you up, and you feel really, really groggy. It’s possible that you’ve woken up from deep sleep. If that’s not the case, you know if you don’t feel that kind of sleep inertia. You know, kind of almost dizzy grogginess and you just feel tired then, yes, it’s possible you’re just actually not getting enough sleep. It’s also possible that is a symptom of depression as well. So, you know it, there’s lots of things that it could be but for the most part, we’re pretty good judges of our level of tiredness, and if somebody asks you, do you feel really tired, you know, when you wake up and you do, it’s possible you’re just not getting enough sleep.


Audience Question: Are there optimal times like you mentioned sleep cycle, are there more optimal times for people to wake up or to be woken up? 

Dr. Lois James: That will partially depend on your chronotype, how much of a morning or an evening person you are. And that’s you know, again, I know this wasn’t really the purpose of today. But there’s a lot of information out there about, you know, matching workers to shift. And I do work with organizations in terms of, you know, potentially bringing in chronotype as one of the ways in which shifts are assigned because it’s possible that an extreme night person will actually have more difficulty with day shifts if they’re very early start, than night shifts. So there, there’s a huge individual difference. Some people are really great at waking up at 6 Am. Others are not going to want to wake up until 10 AM.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of How to Manage Officer Fatigue and Improve Sleep: Experiment Results.  

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