After the Webinar: Police Fatigue. Q&A with Dr. Lois James

Webinar presenter Dr. Lois James answered a number of your questions after her presentation, Police Fatigue: Strategies for Managing Fatigue and Promoting Sleep Health. Here are just a few of her responses.



Audience Question: What is normal? How much sleep do people really need? Is it possible for one person to need only seven hours of sleep, but for another person any closer to eight, or nine? 

Lois James: Absolutely. Yeah, so the guidelines kind of fluctuated for the longest time. It was between 7.5, and 8.5. I would say between 7 to 9 is where the vast majority of people fall. There is individual difference, individual variation. But most often, if somebody says, “Well, I only need five hours a night,” it just means that they’ve gotten used to the feeling of five hours a night.


Audience Question:  Well, I was just going to ask you that because you hear of these different celebrity types… Bill Gates, Elon Musk, these different people saying, I only use four hours of sleep or whatever, is that possible?

Lois James: Winston Churchill is a great example of that. He said he was a four-hour night sleeper. I think that in those instances, people probably do nap and maybe don’t count them. Napping certainly does count towards your sleep total. Or, yeah, I mean, maybe they are getting by on that. But like I said, you know, in the first part of this presentation, they’re increasing the risk of accident, of injury, of error, and long term risk of disease and shortened lifespan. So, yes, by all means, it is possible to get by on that amount, but not without consequence.


Audience Question: Can you really catch up on sleep by sleeping in on the weekends, or does it create more problems the next week? 

Lois James: You can catch up, absolutely. There have been a number of experiments that have restricted people by, however many hours, up to total sleep deprivation of 72 hours or so on, and then they do series of recovery nights or saturation sleeps. And yes, the science says that you can catch up, whether you can do so, to the absolute amount that you need to, is going to be dependent on how sleep-restricted you actually are. But don’t think, “Oh, well, there’s no point to me even trying that, because I’m never going to catch up enough.” Even catching up a bit can be beneficial.


Audience Question: Has there been any research that tied civilian complaints against law enforcement’s sleep issues? Or even use of force incidents, has there ever been a connection or a correlation between those two factors? 

Lois James: Yes, there has actually – my mentor and academic “father figure,” I suppose. He was just an absolutely brilliant, brilliant researcher and is widely considered to be the father of police fatigue research in the United States. Some of his studies looked specifically at that, data collected on shift patterns and sleep opportunity, and then citizen complaints. And he found a pretty strong correlation between sleeping less, working more, and receiving more citizen complaints. So there is an  ability issue here. We’re certainly concerned about sleep from an officer safety and wellness perspective. But it can also impact the community.  My other area of research is in bias, and people always think, “Oh, well, when you’re doing your bias research, you’re concerned about the community. And when you’re doing your fatigue research you’re concerned about officers.” But what influences one influences the other, right? I mean, having well-rested, functioning officers benefits the community.


Audience Question: And tell me the researcher’s name that you were just talking about?

Lois James: Bryan Vila.


Audience Question: So, we’ve been talking here at Justice Clearinghouse, we’ve been doing a whole series on emotional intelligence. Can fatigue then impact your emotional intelligence? 

Lois James: Yeah, absolutely. It goes hand in hand with the ability to self-monitor, your perspective and empathy and kind of narrowing perception, and so on and so forth. It also really is connected to burnout, and to cynicism. So, yeah, all of these things are related to emotional intelligence. I would say also related to implicit bias. So, my own kind of personal take is that implicit bias training or emotional intelligence training, or procedural justice training, or whatever it might be are fantastic ideas, at least in theory. But they are probably not very effective if officers are so overworked and so fatigued that they’re not going to be able to do anything with that knowledge or skill base anyway.


Audience Question: I’ve got a question here from one of our folks saying, they work for an old guard leader or an old chief who, basically, it’s a “suck it up buttercup” mentality if you feel like you’re not getting enough sleep. Is that attitude changing? Or what do we do if we do work for one of those old guard mentality kinds of chiefs or sheriffs?

Lois James: Yeah, it is changing, and I’m really sorry to hear that, and I know that there are likely more people on the call that experience that, as well. It’s changing very slowly. I do think that we’re going to get to a point where policing is accepting of self-care. For example on-duty napping, that’s one of the huge things that I push and advocate for, and I will tell you, the amount of pushback is getting less and less. There are departments that are more willing to consider on-duty napping. There is zero reason for departments to not consider on-duty napping in the face of all of the evidence – how it increases performance, how it decreases accident, how it decreases error, decreases liability, so on and so forth. The only reason that there’s push back to it is just that it historically hasn’t been done in policing versus other professional groups like firefighting, like surgeons, like pilots. But then there are other groups like policing and like nursing where historically it just hasn’t happened. So, it’s not in the culture. So yes, I mean, I do think that it’s changing. Like all change, it’s probably going to be slow, but even during my academic career, which is less than 15 years, it has changed fairly significantly even during that time frame. So, I think the more that we do, the more that research can really show these are the benefits, not just for your personnel, but for your community, and for your wallet. I think the more that we can do, that, the more people will be on board.


Audience Question: Does your work hours lead to sleep deprivation as well? So, for example, she’s saying here, if I work 12-hour shifts versus eight-hour shifts, does one of these lead more towards sleep issues than the other? 

Lois James: Yeah, so with shifts and sleep restriction, there are certain things to think about, one is shift length, for sure. So, 12-hour shifts are more fatiguing than eight-hour shifts. Another is number of shifts, so working five consecutive shifts is more problematic than working four, for example. And that’s one of the reasons why departments often settle on tens. Because the four-tens structure, it’s not as damaging in the short term as the 12. But you do still have more consolidated time off and you’re not working five on. I mean, sometimes you are depending on how the rosters are structured. But, you know, in, in theory, the four tens can be an effective way of going. And I think that’s why it’s become so popular.


Audience Question: Are there any studies on on-duty police napping? Are there any white papers? What can you point them in the direction outright? 

Lois James: Not within policing, no. Within other shift working groups? Yes, absolutely, especially from the medical field. There haven’t been within policing because there are only, I think, in the United States, three departments that have formally adopted them. We are working with one of those departments to set up a study. So, hopefully, there will be some kind of concrete evidence in the future. I know I’ve worked with one department up in Canada that’s implemented one, but it hasn’t been evaluated beyond just anecdotal evidence.


Audience Question: John’s comment, our department just purchase three recliners for our restorative room, and the more info we have to support it, the better. Any advice Lois for John and their newly created restorative room? 

Lois James: Yeah, like I said, there are a number of articles that show that it’s extremely effective. I would say that in terms of the restorative room, in terms of the recliners, trying as best you can to follow those recommendations about cool, dark quiet, is going to be beneficial. And it will be up to the department, in terms of how long they allow officers to nap. But, again, just being mindful of nap times, in terms of trying not to wake up out of Delta sleep.


Audience Question: So how long should we be in REM, or is delta more important? Can you kind of talk some logistics there, in terms of the amount of time? 

Lois James: Absolutely. Delta is going to be more important in the earlier part of your sleep period. So basically, the body is very, very good, at saying, you know, I need sleep, I’m going to get the most important sleep for my fundamental survival, right. Which is Delta, that core deep restorative sleep. REM sleep, is much more associated with synaptic plasticity and memory consolidation and all that good stuff. So don’t get me wrong, it is just as important as deep sleep. It’s just important for a different reason. As soon as we’ve gotten sufficient delta, we’re going to spend more and more and more time in REM because, as I said, it does all that great stuff for the brain.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Police Fatigue: Strategies for Managing Fatigue and Promoting Sleep Health. 



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