Photo via Flickr.com (Big Whiskey).
Because of the 24-hour nature of law enforcement, officers work challenging schedules and being assigned to third shift is probably the most difficult.
Some departments rotate through the shifts; others have permanent shift assignments. Either way, at some point in your career you may be assigned the "graveyard" shift. There can be a number of advantages to working the night shift. Some departments offer shift-differential pay; some officers choose to work it because of family and childcare needs; and others like the "night owl" work, because that's when they're at their best.
However, the disadvantages to working late-outs can range from sleep deprivation to chronic fatigue and other health issues. Family problems can even crop up.
Sleep is essential for the human body, and it is natural to fall into an internal and regulated clock. This clock is called the circadian rhythm, and it's linked to the changes between night and day. Our bodies are designed to be awake during sunlight and asleep at night. By working the graveyard shift, you're forcing your body to work against that natural rhythm.
The body requires adequate sleep to restore and rejuvenate the brain and body so it can function properly. If you deprive the body of sleep, you can suffer irritability, anxiety, and depression. You become more prone to vehicle crashes and more susceptible to colds and other illness.
So what do you do, if you're working the graveyard shift?
The No. 1 solution is to get enough sleep. The "normal" person requires six to eight hours of rest. As police officers, we know this is easier said then done. It's difficult for officers to get on a set routine. Unlike a typical "9 to 5" job, police work is never predictable or regular. You may have to respond to an early morning emergency that keeps you late, or you may be assigned mandatory overtime that either keeps you up later or gets you up early.
So trying to fit in adequate sleep time can be difficult, but it should be a priority. Not only is a fatigued officer a danger to themselves, they can be a danger to those around them.
I'm currently assigned to late-outs and have found a few tricks to help in sleeping during the day. First, set the stage by wearing dark sunglasses on the ride home. This helps trick the brain into continuing to think it is night time, instead of activating that internal "daytime" clock.
Secondly, create a dark and quiet environment to sleep. It is worth the investment to purchase light-block or heavy curtains to keep your sleeping area completely dark. Turn off any phones (if you can); put up "do not disturb" signs; and if you have family members in the house during the day, explain to them the importance of getting adequate sleep.
Also, adding 'white noise" like the hum of a fan or lower-volume music can also help. Finally, avoid caffeine at least four hours before bedtime and limit tobacco use. Both are stimulants, and will keep you awake.
Remember, when you aren't getting enough sleep you're putting yourself, your co-workers, and the public at risk.