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How do police stay awake on the night shift?

by Mark Miller 5 min read

Police on the night shift

Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash

The criminals, drunken drivers, and red light runners don't take a break overnight, so police officers don't get to either.

If it's quiet, with no burglars to chase down or domestic quarrels to try to sort out (or worse), how do officers stay awake?

It's an important question. The public's and officers' safety may depend on the alertness, professionalism, and judgment of the police.

Sleep deprivation on the night shift

UCLA Health reports on the serious problem of night shift workers not getting enough sleep [1]:

Overall, shift workers tend to be continually sleep-deprived. It is very hard for night shift workers to get enough sleep during the day. They get a daily average of two to four hours less sleep than normal. It is hard for them to get their bodies to fall asleep during the day. Over time, this can develop into a case of insomnia. They are also much more likely to be awakened by noises or people. As a result, their sleep is very light. They are less likely to feel well rested when they wake up.

Do you want the police officer handling your problem to have just 4 to 6 hours of disturbed sleep? Caffeine can help, but it is not a cure-all for chronic sleep loss.


Police Chief Magazine reports [2]:

Sleep deprivation has a litany of unintended consequences, which include
•Increased irritability and lacking levels of tolerance
•Reduced levels of alertness and increased propensity for accidents
•Memory impairment, lack of concentration, and overall inattention
•Stress-related illnesses, obesity, hypertension, and changes in both metabolic and hormonal functions


The news from Police Chief Magazine is all bad vis-a-vis sleep loss:

From a law enforcement perspective, the impacts of sleep deprivation are detrimental to overall officer survival and organizational liability, since those effects also equate to a reduction in vigilance, reaction time, memory recall, psychomotor coordination, information processing, and decision-making. Former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) administrator, Dr. Mark Rosekind, cited a 20–50 percent reduction in overall human performance in situations where required sleep cycles are interrupted.

The magazine goes on to say:

There are nine workplace dimensions that are susceptible to sleep deprivation and can be affected by fatigue. Those affected often suffer from the inability to perform the following functions:

• comprehend complex situations
• perform risk assessment and accurately predict consequences
• think latterly and be innovative
• take personal interest in outcomes
• control mood or behavior
• monitor personal performance
• recollect timing of events
• communicate effectively


You just better hope that any officers you encounter late at night aren't so tired they can't think straight. Well, to you criminals it probably doesn't matter much if you're tired or not. You're busted!

Some major disasters have happened because of sleepiness, including the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant meltdown in 1979 in Pennsylvania; the Chernobyl nuclear power plant meltdown in 1986 in the former USSR; and the Exxon Valdez oil spill catastrophe in 1989 in Alaska.

Police Chief Magazine says officers, too, get in more vehicle accidents because of sleepiness, and you have to think there are other kinds of policing mishaps. Police work is dangerous, often for the public as well as for the officers.

What to do during quiet times on the night shift

Officers report doing a number of activities during quiet times on the night shift at the article "Top 25 things cops do on graveyard shift" [3].

 Some of the items are sort of tongue-in-cheek, but officers might get some ideas, including:

1. I would park in front of the bars at 2 a.m. during last call. For fun I would turn on my take down lights and rear lights, then I would place cones on each side of my cruiser and I'd stand in front of it. No one would want to come out! Best 20 minutes of my life. – Carlosspicywiener Pagan

 Officer Spicywiener sounds like a real winner.

8. I would park in the sugarcane fields waiting for the drug planes to land or crash. Having 300 square miles for each of the four sheriff's patrol cars made it difficult to pick which field. – Ken Cramer



11. I have actually clocked a dog on radar! – Mark Greene

18. I spent years as a patrolman for a security company on graveyard shift. We had a lots of apartment complexes we patrolled. By about 2 or 3 it would quiet down after the drunks passed out. By about 4 or 5 I'd be praying for a call just to break the boredom. Sometimes that would backfire. Oh, and no smart phones back then to pass the time or even an AM/FM radio in the cruiser. – James Miller

 So how do you cope?

As we wrote in this blog [4], The World Sleep Society website [5] has 10 commandments of sleep that it publicizes on World Sleep Day. The site advises:

  1. Establish a regular bedtime and waking time.
  2. If you are in the habit of taking siestas, do not exceed 45 minutes of daytime sleep.
  3. Avoid excessive alcohol ingestion 4 hours before bedtime, and do not smoke.
  4. Avoid caffeine 6 hours before bedtime. This includes coffee, tea and many sodas, as well as chocolate.
  5. Avoid heavy, spicy, or sugary foods 4 hours before bedtime. A light snack before bed is acceptable.
  6. Exercise regularly, but not right before bed.
  7. Use comfortable, inviting bedding.
  8. Find a comfortable sleep temperature setting and keep the room well ventilated.
  9. Block out all distracting noise and eliminate as much light as possible.
  10. Reserve your bed for sleep and sex, avoiding its use for work or general recreation.

Try judicious use of caffeine

Caffeine in the right amounts and at the right time can help get you through a long shift without nodding off or becoming overwhelmed by drowsiness.

Of course, you might not want to fill up on coffee and lattes and other caffeinated liquids, but you still want that caffeine. Try Viter Energy Mints [7], with both caffeine and B vitamins. The tasty mints perk you up and refresh your breath.

Each has 40 mg of caffeine in a sugar-free mint, equal to about one-quarter of a mug of coffee. You can take one mint per half-hour or hour to get a steady stream of caffeine into your bloodstream, or four in quick succession to equal about one mug of java.


[1] https://www.uclahealth.org/sleepcenter/coping-with-shift-work

[2] https://www.policechiefmagazine.org/human-fatigue-in-247-operations/

[3] https://www.police1.com/evergreen/articles/top-25-things-cops-do-on-graveyard-shift-viB5SWlgLLZ2PzjB/

[4] https://www.goviter.com/blogs/viter-energy-blog/sleeping-longer-can-make-you-feel-more-tired

[5] http://worldsleepday.org/10-commandments-of-sleep-hygiene-for-adults

[6] http://worldsleepday.org/10-commandments-for-children

[7] https://amzn.to/3jb7Gwg

[8] https://www.goviter.com/collections/viter-energy-mints

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