Impact of Sleep Deprivation on Police Performance

Sleep deprivation is comparable to excessive drinking. A sleep deprivation study found that not sleeping for 17 hours impaired a person's motor skills to an extent equivalent to having an alcohol toxicity of 0.05 percent. Not sleeping for 24 hours was equivalent to a toxicity level of 0.10 percent.[1] This level of deprivation would impair speech, balance, coordination and mental judgment.

Sleep deprivation can cause work-related accidents. A study found that four out of eight officers involved in on-the-job accidents and injuries were impaired because of fatigue.[2] Such accidents include automobile crashes that were due to officers' impaired eye-hand coordination and propensity to nod-off behind the wheel. Other work related injuries come from accidents that occur when officers have impaired balance and coordination.

Research shows that fatigued officers:

  • Use more sick leave.
  • Practice inappropriate uses of force more frequently.
  • Become involved in more vehicle accidents.
  • Experience more accidental injuries.
  • Have more difficulty dealing with community members and other law enforcement agencies.
  • Have a higher likelihood of dying in the line of duty.[3]

Despite the impact of fatigue, many officers continue to work double shifts, triple shifts and second jobs. Some work well over 1,000 hours of overtime a year. Excessive work with inadequate rest over a long period of time can make officers sleep-deprived — 53 percent of officers report an average of 6.5 hours of sleep or less.[4]


[note 1] Dawson, D. and K. Reid (1997). Fatigue, alcohol and performance impairment. Nature. 388:235.​

[note 2] Vila, B.J. (2000). Tired Cops: The Importance of Managing Police Fatigue. Washington DC: Police Executive Research Forum.

[note 3] Vila, B.J. and D.J. Kenney. (2002). Tired cops: The prevalence and potential consequences of police fatigue (pdf, 6 pages). National Institute of Justice Journal. 248:16-21.

[note 4] Dijk, D.J., D.F. Neri, J.K. Wyatt, J.M. Ronda, E. Riel, A. Ritz-De Cecco, R.J. Hughes, A.R. Elliott, G.K. Prisk, J.B. West, and C.A. Czeisler (2001). Sleep, performance, circadian rhythms, and light-dark cycles during two space shuttle flights. American Journal of Physiology. 281:R1647-R1664. View abstract .

Date Created: January 6, 2009