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William Harvey

William Harvey

William "Bill" Harvey is currently serving as chief of police in south central Pennsylvania. He retired from the Savannah (Ga.) Police Department where he worked assignments in training, patrol, and CID. Harvey has more than 25 years of experience working with recruits, rookies, and FTOs.

Get Your Proper Rest

Sleep is essential to your body's recovery from shift work and the demands of life.

August 15, 2011  |  by William Harvey - Also by this author

Joining the force as a new officer involves shift work, court in the middle of the sleep cycle, and an off-duty job or perhaps taking care of the kiddies. You may ask what happened to all the glamour of being a cop? After all the action and cool stuff, you feel like five miles of bad road because of a lack of sleep. No big deal, right? Wrong. Your health and tactical survival are at stake.

As you'll learn from sleep clinics and studies on the topic, you can't ever catch up. I've heard it a bazillion times. When I get a day off, I'll sleep all day and catch up. This is a myth; you can never catch up. Once sleep is lost, it's lost. This is one of those fleeting mysteries of life.

It's also questionable to listen to what others tell you is the best way to grab some rest on the midnight shift. I've heard the go-straight-to-bed idea. Some believe you should stay up and then go to sleep, waking up ready to go in. Others recommend power naps.

You have to find what works for you. Face it, we're all different. Your station in life may be different as well since you may have to watch the kids after they get home from school. You'll have to experiment and find a system that works for you.

If there are gimmicks out there to help you sleep, a cop has tried them. White-noise machines, sleep blindfolds, herbal remedies, and nose strips — cops have tried them all. Again, you'll have to find what works for you.

The biggest lies come from people who tell you they can go on two hours of sleep. Your body is not designed for this abuse and won't function effectively. Granted, I've seen some who can function normally on 5-6 hours a night. I know others who are dragging if they have one minute shy of a full eight.

"Let's drink a magic potion of kick-butt energy, and we can go on without proper rest," we say. When I was a rookie, all we had was coffee and Jolt cola. Now there are energy drinks, energy shots, and even caffeinated chewing gum. Next, we'll have caffeinated pizza with mushrooms and B-12. I admit that I'm a coffee addict; these chemicals only make the crash worse. Limit these and use your head. Good nutrition and proper vitamins will cover the requirements, so watch your intakes.

For those who choose to ignore my advice about the importance of sleep, please refer to a mandatory read that should be on your book shelf. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, in "On Combat," covers sleep deprivation and its adverse effect on your performance and survival. Lt. Col. Grossman puts the research in front of you and covers it without question. Sleep deprivation can put your survival at risk.

So, if you don't want to believe a crusty old chief, read that book. Take the advice given. Listen to your colleagues and, most of all, listen to your body. On the day you want to go out, if you need your rest, grab some. Your rest and recuperation from the stresses of the job, shift work, and life are worth the investment.

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