Human Fatigue in 24/7 Operations: Law Enforcement Considerations and Strategies for Improved Performance


For the nearly 18,000 law enforcement agencies operating in the United States, their responsibilities span every minute of every day. To ensure that policing services can be provided around the clock, shift work is a necessary and an integral part of the law enforcement profession that impacts all of the nearly 800,000 U.S. police professionals at some point during their careers. Unfortunately, while necessary and accepted as a natural element of the vocation, there are many considerations related to how fatigue affects those engaged in shift work across the 24-hour spectrum. Conservative estimates indicate operational costs of approximately $10,000 more per employee, per year, for those engaged in shift work during nonconventional work hours.1 Compounding this issue is the $136 billion annual cost of fatigue due to health-related lost productivity among employees.2 Because of the rigorous 24/7 demands placed on law enforcement agencies, many organizations fail to recognize the demographic and operational characteristics that necessitate changes to shift scheduling and manpower allocation. For many organizations, the status quo continues despite signs and symptoms of a bigger problem. There are multiple key factors that might lead to need for a redesign and realignment of work schedules. Those factors include

• Staffing level adjustments and overtime requirements

• Business or services expansion

• Operational risk assessment results

• Demographic changes within the workforce

• Enhancement of recruiting and retention efforts

• Transition from crisis management to proactive staffing and scheduling alternatives3

Sleep disorders affect an average of 50–70 million people in the United States, and many law enforcement officials commonly experience disruptions in rest cycles that adversely impact individual health, wellness, and productivity.4

Unfortunately, the adverse impacts commonly associated with rotating shifts across a 24/7 operational spectrum take their toll on employees, including those employed by law enforcement organizations. The distinctive challenges of the job coupled with underlying aspects of fatigue contribute to shorter lifespans among law enforcement professionals. One 40-year study indicated that police officers die an average of 10 years earlier than other members of society, as demonstrated by an average age of 66 years old upon their death.5 The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) emphasized that contemporary research reveals improper management of employee work schedules has the propensity to “increase performance errors, accidents and injuries, and health problems” among employees.6

Most fatigue among shift workers is caused by four operational influences, which include circadian rhythm, sleep, work and environmental factors, and health factors.7 These factors impact not only individual employee health and wellness, but organizational aspects such as productivity and liability.

Since operating within the 24/7 realm is nothing new to the law enforcement profession, it is easy to assume that the toll placed upon personnel is simply the side effect of a stressful job and that fatigue is not a real problem. However, fatigue is a leading cause of impairment on the job—it is four times more likely to cause impairment in the workplace than alcohol and drugs.8

Human Fatigue

The Circadian Clock

The circadian clock is the primary driving force behind regulating time periods during which the human body requires rest. Unfortunately for shift workers, this biological function occurs regardless of the shift assigned, and, for most individuals, the circadian rhythms are synchronized with natural periods of daylight. These rhythms evolve from a region of the brain known as the hypothalamus. Within this region are a cluster of cells known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which are connected to optic nerves that respond to changes in light conditions. The SCN regulates important bodily functions such as temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and hormone release over a 24-hour period.9 It is important to note these functions also correspond to levels of alertness, performance, and mood.10 As a result, most humans are naturally synchronized for wakefulness during daylight hours and sleepiness during periods of darkness. Normal circadian rhythms correspond to these time periods; therefore, the latter biological functions naturally serve to either stimulate or depress levels of activity so the body can obtain the adequate periods of rest that are essential for recuperation. For most people, naturally occurring periods of wakefulness occur between 7:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m.11

While some people experience circadian rhythm disorders that are classified as intrinsic or naturally occurring due to their individual biological composition, others—including shift workers—typically experience disruptions to essential circadian rhythms simply because of the unconventional hours they work. Research varies on the topic of naturally occurring high and low periods of performance; however, on average, most humans experience two primary periods of diminished capacity, alertness, and functioning throughout the day. The first period occurs in the early morning hours of 3:00-6:00 a.m., while the second occurs in the early afternoon from approximately 2:00-4:00 p.m. Circadian rhythms are difficult to alter, and night shift workers typically do not experience adjustments to these rhythms until up to three days of work; therefore, schedule periods of less than seven days typically do not produce significant changes in these rhythms.12 A 2016 study of critical care nurses, another career that often requires shift work, revealed reductions in the amount of sleep experienced due to working multiple consecutive night shifts, which did not correspond to normal circadian rhythms.13

Biological Responses

Most individuals require eight hours of sleep; however, due to the unique differences among humans, some individuals can get by with six hours of sleep while others may require up to ten hours. Regardless of the specific amount of sleep required for an individual, getting the proper amount of sleep is necessary to optimize memory, conserve energy, and promote physiological processes that rejuvenate both the body and the mind. It is also important to note changes that occur in the brain due to sleep deprivation cannot be overcome with simple willpower or stimulants such as caffeine. Sleep deprivation has a litany of unintended consequences, which include

•Increased irritability and lacking levels of tolerance

•Reduced levels of alertness and increased propensity for accidents

•Memory impairment, lack of concentration, and overall inattention

•Stress-related illnesses, obesity, hypertension, and changes in both metabolic and hormonal functions14

From a law enforcement perspective, the impacts of sleep deprivation are detrimental to overall officer survival and organizational liability, since those effects also equate to a reduction in vigilance, reaction time, memory recall, psychomotor coordination, information processing, and decision-making. Former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) administrator, Dr. Mark Rosekind, cited a 20–50 percent reduction in overall human performance in situations where required sleep cycles are interrupted.15 To make matters worse, research indicates prolonged periods of nighttime sleep deprivation impair the performance of tasks that require attention and memory, in addition to slowing reaction time and enhancing overall levels of subjective sleepiness.16 A 2016 study that reviewed the impact of fatigue on critical care nurses noted the adverse impact of sleep deprivation on the prefrontal cortex; a region of the brain responsible for complex cognitive processes that control an individual’s ability to make decisions, remain calm, and maintain alertness. Researchers also found a correlation between the latter phenomenon and the increase in what were classified as “risk-taking” behaviors among those working within an emergency room environment.17

Research also indicates cumulative sleep deficits can have a detrimental impact on people who routinely fail to get adequate amounts of restful sleep. For example, consider an individual who requires eight hours of sleep per night, but who loses two hours of sleep each day over a four-day period. At the end of the fourth day, that individual has a cumulative sleep debt of eight hours; the equivalent to losing an entire eight-hour rest cycle. This is a common issue—it is estimated the average individual in the United States gets anywhere from one to one and a half fewer hours of sleep than he or she requires.18 For those working nights, the numbers are worse, indicating an average of 25–30 percent less sleep than their day shift counterparts.19 A 2000 study that compared sleep deprivation with the impacts of alcohol consumption found that a sleep deficit of 17–19 hours has similar effects to alcohol impairment and was responsible for a 50 percent reduction in performance.20 In a 2011 study of police officers, the author notes that 70 percent of respondent officers claimed the necessity for seven to nine hours of sleep; however, two-thirds admitted they obtain only three to six hours of sleep in a typical 24-hour period while working day shifts.21 The researchers go on to note that officers on night shifts would likely report even lower sleep numbers, which further contributes to the adverse effects experienced by those working 24/7 schedules.

Health problems related to fatigue are also a growing concern for those working around the clock. In a 2011 study, over 40 percent of the 4,957 police officers examined screened positive for at least one sleep disorder. Alarmingly, nearly 34 percent of those respondents screened positive for obstructive sleep apnea; a condition that increases the risk for hypertension, cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment, and accidents.22

Another biological factor worthy of consideration involves the age of those personnel working shift work. Body chemistry plays a significant role in one’s overall resilience and ability to navigate within 24/7 operations. The hormone melatonin is created by the brain’s pineal gland and works in conjunction with circadian rhythms. As a person ages, the level of melatonin in the body decreases, which contributes to difficulty sleeping—especially while working night shifts. As a result, individuals over 45 years of age have even greater difficulty adapting to night shifts and tolerating disruptions to internal circadian cycles.23

Officer Safety

While it is important to understand the physiological effects of fatigue on the human body, it is even more important to understand the relationship of those effects to officer safety. Research shows that since 2003, more officers have been killed by unintended events than during the commission of felonies; therefore, it is important to weigh the impact fatigue has on overall officer well-being and survival. In fact, one-third of line-of-duty deaths occurring between 2009 and 2010 resulted from motor vehicle crashes.24 Globally, 10–30 percent of traffic deaths occur due to sleepiness, and 20 percent of transportation incidents occurring in the United States are attributed to some level of human fatigue.25 Police officers also have the highest injury rates among all other categories of emergency responders, reflecting 8.5/100,000 for injuries and 14.2/100,000 for deaths reported through 2010, overall.26

Previous research illustrates the complexities associated with officer safety and fatigue. A 2011 study of nearly 5,000 officers found 46 percent nodded off while driving, 18 percent made important administrative errors, 24 percent made errors related to safety, and 34 percent reported uncontrolled anger toward a member of the public due to fatigue.27 Age and time on the job compounds these effects as well. Multiple studies reflect the correlation between increased risk of health impairments and the length of time employees are exposed to shift work. In fact, research indicates an accelerated reduction in fitness for duty among police officers after 20–22 years of working shift work.28

Human Error and Risk Management

While officer safety and personal well-being are arguably the most important aspects for consideration from a humanistic standpoint, from an organizational perspective, the impact fatigue has on human error and overall risk management is another important variable for consideration. One study of 400 shift work operations noted that over half of the shift workers involved (53 percent) made several errors due to inattention in the workplace.29 In the context of 24/7 operations, many notable and catastrophic incidents occurred during nighttime hours and are largely attributed to some type of fatigue (Three-Mile Island, the Estonia ferry accident, and Chernobyl, to name a few).30 As commonly experienced within the law enforcement profession, extended work weeks, excessive overtime, and multiple consecutive shifts contribute to a variety of health and safety issues related to sleep deprivation and fatigue. A 2000 study of fatigue among police officers found that 41 percent suffered from clinical levels of sleep deprivation, and 19 percent showed some level of actual impairment due to fatigue.31 The National Institute of Justice noted that sleep deprivation dangerously hinders officers’ ability to analyze situations and assess risk correctly, make proper decisions, and proceed towards safe outcomes.”32

From a risk management standpoint, organizations must strive to educate the workforce while applying control measures designed to improve human performance and mitigate risk factors. Within the 24/7 operational environment, mitigating the harmful effects of fatigue is paramount, especially in workforce populations where mistakes can make the difference between life and death. There are nine workplace dimensions that are susceptible to sleep deprivation and can be affected by fatigue. Those affected often suffer from the inability to perform the following functions:

• comprehend complex situations

• perform risk assessment and accurately predict consequences

• think latterly and be innovative

• take personal interest in outcomes

• control mood or behavior

• monitor personal performance

• recollect timing of events

• communicate effectively33

Exposure to shift work, the correlation with sleep deprivation, and its relationship with human fatigue also creates situations in which performance is inhibited to a level equivalent to degrees of intoxication. Contemporary research suggests impairments equivalent to .10 percent blood alcohol content (BAC) following periods of wakefulness longer than 20 hours.34 Similarly, Dr. Mark Rosekind (NHTSA) noted how as little as two hours of sleep loss can result in impairments equivalent to .045 percent BAC, while four hours of sleep loss correlates to a .095 percent BAC.35 The resulting effects of fatigue transcend conventional shift timeframes and appear to increase later in the day. When compared to day shifts, incidents of human error increase by roughly 18 percent during afternoon shifts and by 30 percent during night shifts.36 It is important to note that the latter statistics also correspond with rates of injury among employees. A 2008 study found slightly over half (52 percent) of respondents’ on-the-job injuries occurred between the hours of 6:00 p.m. and midnight.37

Shift duration is also a factor, since the longer the period worked, the more propensity of risk over time. Consider the cumulative effects of prolonged sleep deprivation and the biological responses to fatigue, which diminish important cognitive functions necessary for law enforcement personnel. One Canadian research study reported more safety incidents occurring on the fourth successive night shift than on preceding days of the week.38 A 2007 study mirrored this finding, noting a 36 percent higher propensity of a negative occurrence on the fourth night’s shift than during other periods earlier in the work week. Similar findings were discovered during research conducted on shift durations. Compared to conventional 8-hour shifts, 10-hour shifts were associated with a 13 percent increase in overall risk, while 12-hour shifts featured a 27 percent increase in negative occurrence risks.39 Other studies found that work periods beyond 8 hours accumulate exponentially to the point where 12-hour shifts feature twice the risk of accidents. Additionally, police stress expert John M. Violanti’s 2012 review of eight different studies showed a 41 percent increase in occupational injury risk for 10-hour shifts as compared to 8-hour shifts.40

Another important consideration from a risk management standpoint centers on fatigue and its impact on traffic crashes. As noted previously, conclusive research indicates that significant reductions in human performance due to fatigue contribute to traffic crashes. A 1995 British study of police officers noted that the numbers of traffic increased during lower circadian alertness-level periods (midnight–3:00 a.m. and 2:00–5:00 p.m.), a correlation that was exacerbated by prolonged periods of sleep deprivation.41 Police officers are not the only ones impacted by the harmful effects of fatigue—nearly 60 percent of respondents in a large U.S. sleep study reported that they drove while fatigued, with 37 percent admitting they had fallen asleep while driving.42

Shift Work and Scheduling

Since fatigue can impact many critical cognitive and physiological functions, shift duration and scheduling must be carefully orchestrated to balance the requirements of the job with the capabilities of the personnel assigned. Approximately 15–18 percent of the full-time U.S. workforce is assigned to shift work, which means there are many organizations, including law enforcement agencies, that need to ensure that their scheduling methods are based on scientific research and best practice approaches to managing fatigue.43

As one author noted, professionals such as pilots, locomotive engineers, ship captains, commercial truck drivers, and emergency room physicians are required to follow standardized work hour regulations and guidelines; however, law enforcement personnel—people with the power to seize life and liberty—are expected to endure extended work periods while maintaining strict professional standards. Most evidence also suggests increased dissatisfaction among employees working rotating shifts compared to those on conventional fixed schedules.44 Since there is significance in how shifts are aligned, organizations should look at important shift factors such as

• Duration and distribution of working time

• Sequence of shifts

• Scheduled working time

• Sleep and wake transitions

• Leave days and breaks

• Schedule patterns45

There are also biological considerations when determining optimum shift schedules. A 2011 study compared shift work durations with the levels of cortisol among police officers and determined that certain shift periods were responsible for reductions in cortisol levels, which can impact the body’s ability to self-regulate during stressful situations.46 A 2001 study noted that police officers working night shifts suffered with memory issues more than their day shift counterparts.47 Finnish research professor Mikko Härmä and his colleagues determined that shift durations enhanced levels of sleepiness by 15 percent for each hour worked—a significant factor when choosing among available shift lengths.48 The impact of shifts on those working 12-hour shifts within intensive care units was also researched in 2014, and the results illustrated an increased risk of medication errors and situations classified as “near misses.”49

Rotation Frequency & Direction

A highly debated topic in the shift work discussion concerns the frequency and manner by which shift rotation occurs. Research results vary on how often shifts should rotate and most chrono-biologists recommend that individuals be assigned to a given shift for a minimum of three weeks to allow for circadian adjustments; however, there are no changes to circadian rhythmicity during shift periods of less than seven days.50 In fact, many European organizations conduct shift rotations on a weekly basis for this very reason. Shift rotations are generally classified as either quick or slow and each methodology has merit; therefore, it is important for organizational administrators to compare these options to the needs of the agency and the interests of both internal and external stakeholders.51 Quick rotations allow for

•Maintaining circadian rhythms within their natural daytime orientation

•Prevention of chronic sleep deprivation

•Varied work schedules, allowing for increased time with friends and family

Slow rotations, which are widely used in the United States, allow for

•More consistent work patterns and reduction of sleep and wake transitions

•Improved biological body adjustments pertaining to circadian rhythms

•Enhanced planning in advance of personal commitments or activities

Law enforcement personnel are often required not only to work long, arduous hours, but also to work for varying periods of extended time throughout a given schedule period. Most experts recommend no more than five to seven consecutive days of work before periods of leave.52 In law enforcement, abrupt turnaround times are commonplace. Unfortunately, these turnarounds exacerbate the already significant effects of fatigue and contribute to the risk of injury or error during duty hours. Multiple studies indicate that 10 hours or less between shifts is insufficient for adequate rest and recovery; especially considering that those shorter rest cycles typically result in only four to five hours of sleep within a given period.53 One 1997 study recommended a minimum rest cycle of 11–12-hours between shifts to achieve the best chance of recuperation prior to the next schedule period; however, there is additional research that suggests a minimum of 24 hours between shifts while on nights.54

Another important factor involves the number of leave days following periods of time worked. Most research suggests that one day off between workday blocks is inadequate for optimal rest and recuperation, especially following periods of overnight shifts or periods of transition between different shifts.55 In fact, while experts largely recommend a minimum of two days off, some argue that periodic long breaks of three days or more should be built within extended schedule periods.56 How shifts rotate is another major concern because the rotations impact the ability of personnel to successfully navigate between differing shift schedules. Many law enforcement agencies require employees to rotate shifts in a counterclockwise manner, which requires further deviation from normal circadian rhythms. During in a 2007 study, Nayantara Santhi (Surrey Sleep Research Centre, UK) and her fellow researchers noted more acute cognitive deficits during transitions from day to night shifts than from the reverse, which illustrates some of the unintended consequences associated with counterclockwise shift rotations.57 Additional research found increased productivity during clockwise shift rotations, since that method corresponds with normal circadian rhythmicity.58

Duration and Times

When it comes to selecting optimal schedule periods, Dr. Mark Rosekind notes that a one-size-fits-all policy will not work for agencies due to the inherit differences related to individual sleep needs.59 Within the law enforcement profession, shifts span the entire 24-hour period; however, there is great variety in how shifts are scheduled and aligned for coverage. Conventional eight-hour work periods are the overwhelming majority of shifts found within the workplace, especially within 24-hour operational periods. One study indicated increased risk levels between 13 percent and 27 percent for shifts lasting longer than eight hours; yet another study reported an exponential level of risk for both 10-hour (90 percent higher) and 12-hour shifts (110 percent higher) during night shift periods.60 The latter figures should be taken into consideration prior to scheduling periods that exceed 9 hours; however, from an employee perspective, 10-hour shifts are often highly desired and coveted because of the enhanced potential for extended leave periods following scheduled work periods.

Another important factor for consideration centers on scheduled shift start times. Considering the natural biological periods of reduced alertness due to circadian rhythmicity, most researchers agree on the importance of avoiding shift start times that coincide with those periods.61 Since early start times often encroach upon optimal sleep periods, experts recommend shift start times be scheduled between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 8 a.m. for day shifts, and 7:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. for night shifts while avoiding shift start times between 5:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m.62

Health Concerns

Law enforcement employees are often their own worst enemies in terms of individual well-being and managing the adverse effects of working 24/7. While the nature of the work itself is hard, the impact of shift work on internal biological processes is even harder on the human body. One international cancer research organization classified the harmful effects of fatigue as carcinogenic, primarily due to the litany of problems commonly associated with shift work.63 In fact, research indicates strong correlations between shift work and the following ailments:

•Cardiovascular disease


•Gastrointestinal problems

•Mood disturbances and depression


•High cholesterol levels


Abundant research also indicates that fatigue and sleep-wake patterns have an effect on hormones such as cortisol and melatonin, in addition to body temperature and overall metabolic rates.65 This effect is significant and was illustrated in a 2011 study of nearly 5,000 police officers, a third of whom possessed a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher.66 A 2013 study that analyzed the impact of shift work on rates of sickness-related absence among police officers found that overweight officers working night shifts were twice as likely to have a sickness-related absence than officers working day shifts, and 74 percent more likely than those working afternoon shifts. Sleep disorders are generally higher in shift workers than other members of the general population. It is also important to note the same 2013 study found higher amounts of sick leave use among populations assigned to night shifts.67

Conclusive research indicates more than half of all police officers fail to get adequate amounts of rest, in addition to possessing 44 percent higher incidences of sleep apnea. In one study, over 90 percent of the officers reported frequently feeling fatigued.68

While the effects and impacts of fatigue on personnel performing shift work is important to understand, it is also important to acknowledge that shift work is a necessary and critical part of service within the 24/7 realm. Nonetheless, employee health and well-being should be an important organizational focus, and there are strategies that both employees and organizations can implement to reduce the harmful effects associated with these operational environments.


Employee Strategies

To counteract the corrosive effects of fatigue, the fundamental factor is adequate rest. The effects of sleep loss are cumulative; therefore, it is important that personnel do not begin a work cycle with an accumulated sleep debt. Additionally, employees cannot “sleep ahead” or “stock up” on sleep in anticipation of future losses.69 In fact, sleep researcher Han Van Dongen’s 2003 research notes that the “restriction of sleep to 6-hours or less per night produced cognitive performance deficits equivalent to up to two nights of total sleep deprivation,” which suggests that sleep debt indeed carries a neurobiological cost that accumulates over time.70

Some research suggests that napping prior to overnight shifts will improve performance to mitigate the effects of sleep loss that typically occurs during the day; therefore, departments have also experimented and had success with allowing sleep or rest periods during work hours. The Henderson, Nevada, Police Department is one such agency, and their policy allows employees working overnight shifts to take designated meal and sleep breaks at predetermined facilities that offer sleeping accommodations as long as the employees adhere to strict stipulations on accessibility.

Another potential solution centers on navigating through naturally occurring circadian rhythm cycles. While most humans are biologically programmed to sleep at night, those working night shifts can reduce the roller coaster effects by remaining on shift-sleep cycles, even during periods of leave. While some personnel advocate the notion of permanent shifts, research has shown that circadian cycles are “reset” each time an employee transitions back to a normal daytime schedule during periods of leave between night shifts. For most, this approach is unrealistic and impractical, since leave periods feature time with family and normal daytime commitments; therefore, the notion of quick rotation schedules may serve employees better and have less of an adverse impact on critical biological functions. Those working shifts during the 24/7 cycle should also do everything they can to remain healthy and minimize the harmful effects of fatigue. Dr. Bryan Vila suggests personnel implement the following recommendations.71

•Remain or become physically fit. This should include not only abundant exercise, but also maintenance of a healthy body weight in addition to a proper diet and abstention from smoking.

•Learn to use caffeine effectively. Restrict caffeine intake well before sleep periods (abstain at least 3–4 hours prior to sleep), and only drink one cup of coffee per hour to combat drowsiness.

•Utilize proper sleep hygiene. Try to get 7–8 hours of sleep per rest period, and avoid alcohol prior to bedtime. Avoid the use of computers, phones, or other electronic devices, and make sure sleeping accommodations are comfortable, dark, quiet, and cool.

•Take a nap prior to coming on shift. If 7–8 hours of sleep did not occur, consider taking a nap (20 minutes to 2 hours is optimal) prior to starting a shift to improve performance, elevate mood, and increase productivity.

•Seek appropriate medical consultation. In situations where health concerns emerge, it is important to seek professional guidance for sleep disorders, headaches, or other problems related to personal well-being.

Another obvious recommendation for improved employee health and well-being involves adequate time away from the stress triggers associated with both the law enforcement profession and associated shift work. Leave days are a fundamental component of this strategy; however, extended vacation periods are also important.

Organizational Strategies

Most research emphasizes adherence to a comprehensive fatigue management approach, which includes important factors such as workforce education, alertness strategies, scheduling, and duty-leave policies.72 One 2008 study noted that 90 percent of those working shifts receive no training on how to manage individual schedules and shift work lifestyles.73 It is important for organizations to develop fatigue risk management strategies that at the minimum, include

•Education about fatigue for employees, supervisors, managers, and other stakeholders

•Employee wellness training

•Re-evaluation of work scheduling

•Optimization of staffing and shift levels and cycles74

Another important element is a review of the policies, procedures, and practices that affect shift scheduling and rotation periods, to include analysis of overtime, secondary employment, consecutive work hours, and strategies for dealing with fatigued employees. Additionally, employers should give employees a voice regarding shift preferences while also assessing the impact fatigue has on those working shifts.75 Fatigue countermeasures should also include a range of strategies that include support for education and training, in addition to ensuring the appropriate resources are assigned and operating within the optimal environment for implementation—in other words, organizational support that is balanced with personal accountability.76 Other organizational recommendations include

•Provision of research-based policy implementation

•Development of preventive strategies that work within diverse political, economic, and social environments

•Establishment of strict policies and corresponding enforcement of overtime, special projects, and secondary employment

•Establishment of strict work-rest policies and corresponding shift scheduling periods77

Organizational managers also play a fundamental role in mitigating the harmful effects of fatigue. In addition to the strategies outlined herein, management should formally assess the level of fatigue experienced by subordinates, while also creating a culture that emphasizes the promotion of healthy sleep and rest habits and provides ample opportunities for discussion and training on the topic.78 Unfortunately, in terms of shift schedules, there is no utopian answer to solving the dilemma of fatigue within the 24/7 environment. While organizations must invest the time and resources into developing a healthy workplace, it is also important to compare the operational expectations of that organization with the needs of those served. Shift scheduling plays a large role in this process; however, how shifts are assigned should be reviewed and compared with the issues outlined herein. Rotational periods, shift start and end times, and schedule duration are all important factors that require constant review and reevaluation to determine what is best not only for the public and the organization, but also for the employees assigned to 24/7 operations. When it comes to the evaluation of shift periods, consider the following methods designed to improve overall utilization of shift schedules:

• Avoid permanent night shifts

• Keep consecutive night shifts to a minimum

• Avoid quick shift changes

• Schedule free weekends for all employees

• Avoid overly extended leave periods between periods of work

• Keep long work shifts and overtime to a minimum

• Consider different shift lengths

• Examine shift start and end times

• Keep the schedule as regular and predictable as possible

• Examine the viability of rest break periods79


There is no doubt the 24/7 operational environment takes its toll on personnel assigned to law enforcement duties. The job is demanding and the rigors of working around the clock can have adverse impacts on both people and organizations. While key considerations include employee longevity, quality of life, and performance ability, it is also important to manage fatigue from a risk management standpoint. An overwhelming amount of research illustrates the significant impact fatigue can have on the operational environment. Considering the law enforcement role, this operational environment commonly includes life-and-death decisions that occur within fractions of a second. While fatigue management is paramount to organizational success, it is also an investment that enhances productivity and wellness among employees charged with protecting communities within the 24/7 realm.




1William G. Sirois, Biocompatible Shift Scheduling: The Critical Factors That Influence the Overall Mental and Physical Fatigue Risks of a Core Shift Schedule (Circadian Australia, 2016).

2Bryan Vila, “Sleep Deprivation: What Does It Mean for Public Safety Officers?” NIJ Journal 262 (2009): 26–31.

3William Davis and Acacia Aguirre, “Shift Scheduling & Employee Involvement: The Key to Successful Schedules,” (Circadian, 2009).

4Shantha M. W. Rajaratnam et al., “Sleep Disorders, Health, and Safety in Police Officers,” Journal of the American Medical Association 306, no. 23 (2011): 2567–2578.

5Vila, “Sleep Deprivation: What Does It Mean for Public Safety Officers?”

6Scott R. Senjo, “Dangerous Fatigue Conditions: A Study of Police Work and Law Enforcement Administration,” Police Practice and Research 12, no. 3 (2011): 235–252.

7William G. Sirois, The Myths & Realities of Fatigue: Reducing the Costs, Risks, and Liabilities of Fatigue in 24-Hour Operations (Circadian, 2009).

8Dennis Lindsey, “Police Fatigue: An Accident Waiting to Happen,” FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin 76, no. 8 (August 2007): 1–8.

9Alaska Sleep Clinic, “Circadian Rhythm Disorders: An Overview of Circadian Rhythm Disorders Including Symptoms, Impact on Health, and Treatments.”

10Mark R. Rosekind, “Fitness for Duty: Managing Fatigue and Safety in 24/7 Operational Settings,” Alertness Solutions (December 2005).

11Alaska Sleep Clinic, “Circadian Rhythm Disorders.”

12Paula A. Burgess, “Optimal Shift Duration and Sequence: Recommended Approach for Short-Term Emergency Response Activations for Public Health and Emergency Management,” American Journal of Public Health 97 (April 2007): S88–S92.

13Cheryl Pryce, “Impact of Shift Work on Critical Care Nurses,” Canadian Journal of Critical Care Nursing 27, no. 4 (2016): 17–21.

14Lindsey, “Police Fatigue: An Accident Waiting to Happen.”

15Mark R. Rosekind, Managing Stress in 24/7 Operations,” (presented at FBI NAA Conference, St. Louis, MO, July 25, 2016).

16Fernanada V. Narciso et al., “Effects of Shift Work on the Postural and Psychomotor Performance of Night Workers,” PLoS One 11, no. 4 (April 2016): 1–11.

17Pryce, “Impact of Shift Work on Critical Care Nurses.”

18Mark R. Rosekind et al., “Managing Fatigue in Operational Settings 1: Physiological Considerations and Countermeasures,” Behavioral Medicine 21, no. 4 (1996): 157–165.

19Burgess, “Optimal Shift Duration and Sequence.”

20Senjo, “Dangerous Fatigue Conditions.”


22Rajaratnam, “Sleep Disorders, Health, and Safety in Police Officers.”

23Burgess, “Optimal Shift Duration and Sequence.”

24Rajaratnam, “Sleep Disorders, Health, and Safety in Police Officers.”

25Narciso, “Effects of Shift Work on the Postural and Psychomotor Performance of Night Workers”; Rosekind, Managing Stress in 24/7 Operations.”

26John M. Violanti et al., “Shift Work and the Incidence of Injury Among Police Officers,” American Journal of Industrial Medicine 55 (2012): 217–227.

27Rajaratnam, “Sleep Disorders, Health, and Safety in Police Officers.”

28Anna Wirtz and Friedhelm Nachreiner, “Effects of Lifetime Exposure to Shiftwork on Fitness for Duty in Police Officers,” Chronobiology International 29, no.5 (2012): 595–600.

29Sirois, Biocompatible Shift Scheduling.

30Burgess, “Optimal Shift Duration and Sequence.”

10Debbie S. Ma et al., “When Fatigue Turns Deadly: The Association Between Fatigue and Racial Bias in the Decision to Shoot,” Basic and Applied Social Psychology 35, no.6 (2013): 515–524.

32Senjo, “Dangerous Fatigue Conditions.”

33Lindsey, “Police Fatigue: An Accident Waiting to Happen.”


35Rosekind, “Fitness for Duty: Managing Fatigue and Safety in 24/7 Operational Settings.”

36Burgess, “Optimal Shift Duration and Sequence.”

37Violanti, “Shift Work and the Incidence of Injury Among Police Officers.”

38Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, “Fatigue,” OSH Answers Fact Sheets, August 1, 2017.

39Burgess, “Optimal Shift Duration and Sequence.”

40Violanti, “Shift Work and the Incidence of Injury Among Police Officers.”

41Senjo, “Dangerous Fatigue Conditions.”

42Rosekind, Managing Stress in 24/7 Operations.”

43Laura K. Barger et al., “Validation of a Questionnaire to Screen for Shift Worker Disorder,” Sleep 35, no. 12 (2012): 1693–1703F; Sirois, Biocompatible Shift Scheduling.

44John L. Pierce and Randall B. Dunham, “The 12-Hour Work Day: A 48-Hour, Eight-Day Week,” Academy of Management Journal 35, no. 5 (1992): 1086–1098.

45William G. Sirois and A. Aguirre, “Alternative Work Schedules: Determining the Best or Optimal Shift Patterns for your Operation,” (Circadian, 2003).

46Wirth et al., “Shiftwork Duration and the Awakening Cortisol Response Among Police Officers,” Chronobiology International 28, no. 5 (2011): 446–457.

47Senjo, “Dangerous Fatigue Conditions.”

48Mikko Härmä et al., “The Effect of an Irregular Shift System on Sleepiness at Work in Train Drivers and Railway Traffic Controllers,” Journal of Sleep Research 11, no. 2 (May 2002): 141–151.

97Rajaratnam, “Sleep Disorders, Health, and Safety in Police Officers.”

50Burgess, “Optimal Shift Duration and Sequence.”

51Sirois and Aguirre, “Alternative Work Schedules.”

52Sirois, Biocompatible Shift Scheduling.

53Sirois and Aguirre, “Alternative Work Schedules.”

54Roger R. Rosa and Michael J. Colligan, “Plain Language About Shiftwork,” (Cincinnati, OH: U.S. Department of Health and Senior Services, July 1997); Sirois and Aguirre, “Alternative Work Schedules.”

55Sirois and Aguirre, “Alternative Work Schedules.”

56Sirois, Biocompatible Shift Scheduling.

57Nayantara Santhi et al., “Acute Sleep Deprivation and Circadian Misalignment Associated with Transition onto the First Night of Work Impairs Visual Selective Attention,” PLOS ONE (2007): 12–33.

58Burgess, “Optimal Shift Duration and Sequence.”

59Rosekind, “Fitness for Duty: Managing Fatigue and Safety.”

60Burgess, “Optimal Shift Duration and Sequence”; Vila, “Sleep Deprivation: What Does it Mean for Public Safety Officers?”

61Burgess, “Optimal Shift Duration and Sequence.”

62Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, “Fatigue”; Sirois and Aguirre, “Alternative Work Schedules.”

63Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, “Fatigue.”

64Barger, “Validation of a Questionnaire to Screen for Shift Worker Disorder”; Vila, “Sleep Deprivation: What Does It Mean for Public Safety Officers?”

65Desta Fekedulegn et al., “Shiftwork and Sickness Absence Among Police Officers: The BCOPS Study,” Chronobiology International 30, no. 7 (2013): 930–941.

66Rajaratnam, “Sleep Disorders, Health, and Safety in Police Officers.”

67Fekedulegn, “Shiftwork and Sickness Absence Among Police Officers.”

68Vila, “Sleep Deprivation: What Does It Mean for Public Safety Officers?”

69Rosekind et al., “Managing Fatigue in Operational Settings 1.”

70Hans Van Dongen et al., “The Cumulative Cost of Additional Wakefulness: Dose-Response Effects on Neurobehavior Functions and Sleep Physiology from Chronic Sleep Restriction and Total Sleep Deprivation,” Sleep 26 (2003): 117–126.

71Vila, “Sleep Deprivation: What Does It Mean for Public Safety Officers?”

72Rosekind, “Fitness for Duty: Managing Fatigue and Safety.

73William G. Sirois, “The Myths & Realities of Fatigue: Reducing the Costs, Risks, and Liabilities of Fatigue in 24-Hour Operations” (Circadian, 2009).


75Bryan Vila and Dennis Jay Kenney, “Tired Cops: The Prevalence and Potential Consequences of Police Fatigue,” NIJ Journal 248 (2002): 17–21.

76Mark R. Rosekind and P.H. Gander, “Managing Fatigue in Operational Settings 2: An Integrated Approach,” Behavioral Medicine 21, no. 4 (1996): 166–171.

77Lindsey, “Police Fatigue: An Accident Waiting to Happen.”

78Vila, “Sleep Deprivation: What Does It Mean for Public Safety Officers?”

79Rosa and Colligan, “Plain Language About Shiftwork.”