Officer Work Hours, Stress and Fatigue

Law enforcement officers commonly work extended hours in ever-changing environments that can cause great mental and physical stress.

Enduring fatigue for a long period of time may lead to chronic fatigue syndrome, a health problem characterized by extreme fatigue that does not improve with bed rest and continues to worsen with physical and mental activity.

Fatigue can:

  • Impair an officer's mental and physical ability.
  • Create a cycle of fatigue. 
  • Limit job performance.
  • Damage an officer's health.

Cycle of Fatigue

Fatigue arises primarily from inadequate sleep — both the quantity and quality of sleep. See Law Enforcement Officer and Sleep Disorders.

Officers get inadequate sleep when they experience a break in their circadian rhythms, the sleep/wake cycle all living organisms require to maintain good health.

Circadian rhythms impact a person's biochemical, physiological and behavioral processes. External cues such as daylight or noise help modulate a person's circadian rhythms, generating a series of internal responses that cause sleeping and waking. Changes in external cues can effect a person's mental and physical disposition — one common example is the experience of jet lag.

Continual breaks in circadian rhythm can cause serious mental and physical fatigue. This fatigue diminishes people's mental and physical health, and impairs their ability to deal with stressful situations. For police officers, this gives way to a cycle of fatigue that decreases their ability to perform their job effectively.

Date Modified: August 13, 2012