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NZPA | Tue May 1st, 2018

Working for Police is rarely a nine-to-five job, which means a shift-load of odd hours.

Shift work

When Sergeant Lachy Garrick joined Police 29 years ago, he immediately found that he was a poor sleeper.

Despite using an eye mask, earplugs and having blacked-out windows, he was never able to average more than three hours a day.

“I tried sleeping pills, and while they made me sleep longer – up to four hours or so – I only felt as if I had been asleep for about 20 minutes,” he says.

He had a scare one evening when he was working as a nightshift PST supervisor and almost drove into a parked car. “I woke up just in time to swerve around it, thank God.”

Lachy has had little choice but to avoid night shifts as much as possible. He currently works a day shift in a road policing role with occasional late/swing shifts, “which I can cope with”.

“I love being a cop, but the risks associated with fatigue due to insufficient sleep are of real concern.”

Lachy’s experiences are at the extreme end, but anyone who work shifts in Police will relate to the difficulties of organising your life around odd working hours and the toll that can take, physically and mentally, if you’re not prepared for it.

There are practical steps that can be taken to minimise fatigue and the first one is to recognise the signs:

• Feeling constantly tired

• Having little energy

• Being less vigilant, being moody, forgetful and unable to concentrate

• Poor communication and decision making

• Reduced hand-eye co-ordination and slower reaction times.

Other not so obvious symptoms include:

• Feeling drowsy

• Headaches

• Dizziness

• Blurred vision or impaired visual perception

• The need for extended sleep on your days off.

 

The Comms Supervisor

The Police comms teams operate 24/7 and employ up to 700 staff between them. They are at the frontline of police work. Shift supervisor Chris Turner has worked shifts in Central Comms in Wellington for 21 years. Over that time, he has found a way of coping with shift work that suits him:

“The main thing is that I try not to do anything different from my regular life. I keep my meal patterns the same and I try to eat proper meals at the times I would normally be having breakfast, lunch or dinner.

“When I leave work, I switch off. I don’t take work home with me, which can be challenging to do when you have a work phone.

“I try not to do overtime. I’ve noticed that doing too much overtime is counter-productive. If you overdo it, you get tired and sick.

“I really enjoy my work, which helps, so I don’t mind getting up at 5am to go to work.

“I also have outside interests in the community and with my kids’ schools.

“I treat my house as my sanctuary.

“Sure, I start to feel pretty tired at 4am… I think everyone does, but you get through. It helps to try to maintain a positive attitude. I divide my day into quarters. If one quarter hasn’t gone so well, I tell myself that the next quarter will be okay and I don’t dwell on the bad parts.”

 

Top Tips

“The best thing I did was buy a decent air conditioning unit for my bedroom so it stays cool during the day when I’m sleeping. When I’m on night shift, I have two shorter rest periods rather than a single long one. During the middle, between 3pm and 7pm, I get up and do stuff and try to get some sun on my skin.” – Senior Sergeant Jesse Mowat, shift commander, North Shore Policing Centre

“Communicate with your manager or supervisor if you start showing the signs and symptoms of fatigue.” – Association field officer and health and safety specialist Brian Ballantyne

 

Better sleep

›› Adequate sleep is the only way to recover from fatigue; the general rule is between seven and nine hours a night to maintain health and alertness

›› Try sleeping in a dark room

›› Avoid using electronic devices just before sleep

›› Eliminate noise

›› Don’t eat a large meal just before bed

›› Exercise regularly

›› Consider getting a better bed

 

At work

›› Take breaks during and between shifts

›› Eat a balanced diet, particularly foods that provide a steady release of energy, such as whole grains

›› Drink plenty of water; avoid sugary drinks

 

Stimulants

›› Coffee, and tea, provides only short-term relief from the effects of fatigue. When that wears off, there is often a “crash” and the result may be poor-quality sleep

 

Work-life balance

›› Have a life outside work and switch off from work as much as possible when you’re not there

›› Have outside interests and hobbies

 

Food

›› The first meal of the day (your breakfast equivalent) should have high-protein food

›› The second meal of the day (lunch equivalent) should be high protein and carbohydrate rich

›› The third meal (dinner equivalent) should be cereals, fruit, light foods and salads that are easy to digest

›› Drink less coffee or tea during the last four hours of your shift as it might keep you awake when you need to be sleeping

›› Snacking: Fruit and milk products, such as yoghurt, are good. Avoid foods with a high fat content – sorry, that does mean sausage rolls and chips – as they take a long time to digest and make you feel tired.

 

If you’ve tried everything and fatigue and sleepiness, or sleeplessness, persists, see your doctor.

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