Stress, Anxiety & Life Expectancy In Police Work

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Stress, anxiety, Rotating Shift Work and Life Expectancy in Police Work

Stress, anxiety, Rotating Shift Work and Life Expectancy in Police Work


How many of you have been able to avoid working rotating shifts for all or most of your career? If you have served as a law enforcement officer, probably few among you have escaped this experience. I would also suspect that few of you actually enjoy working rotating shifts, and that you spend most of your career merely attempting to cope with this unnatural lifestyle.

Well, there are things they didn't teach you at the police academy about shift work, though they certainly should have. It's not only an integral part of policing, it's a surreptitious component of diminished job performance. As such, there are many ways in which officer safety might well be affected by this transient work regimen.

What is "shift work?" It is commonly defined as the, "regular (i.e., non-overtime) employment outside the 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. working interval." Its origin is generally traced back to about 1860. However, the first workers to be initiated to this routine weren't policemen, or even fireman, but bakers. Industrialization and global warfare brought shift work into the mainstream. In fact, estimates are that more than 25% of all workers in the U.S. and Europe are now shift workers. Studies into the effects of shift work on the human body began in 1927, though most of the body of accumulated study is of post-WWII origin. This article will look almost exclusively at research dealing with the subset of shift-workers most adversely affected, "rotating shift" workers (SFPD Redeploys Its Troops With Computerized Help, 1988).

Stress, anxiety, Rotating Shift Work and Life Expectancy in Police Work

Some people attempt to compare "shift-lag" with "jet-lag", but do so incorrectly. The sleep-related symptoms of jet-lag are transient. The persistent exposure to shift-lag over years includes sleep-related disorders, as well as gastrointestinal abnormalities and increased risk of cardiovascular disease. So, you want some good news? Well, I'm still looking for good news. While I'm looking, here's another rather sad tidbit; your ability to adjust to shift work deteriorates with age. In fact, studies are showing that disease and "complaint incidences" increase sharply with the age of shift workers. Now, that's something to look forward to, isn't it?

I'm sure most of you, perhaps out of recognized necessity, have done some research into shift-lag. In which you've no doubt stumbled across the fact that our bodies have an internal biological clock, or "circadian rhythm." This internal clockwork regulates all bodily functions within a 25-hour periodicity. "Chronobiology" is the study of the effects of time on living organisms. Recent studies into circadian rhythm suggest that body temperature, (maximum) urine production and blood steroids reach high and low levels according to times in this cycle. The most salient issue is that the circadian system is unable to adjust instantaneously to changes in routine, as work schedules often require. So, in effect, sleep becomes a major preoccupation amongst ...
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