Thursday, February 26, 2015

FATAL FATIGUE and how it effects our capabilites

This is a guest piece from a great Police trainer friend of mine, reprinted with his permission;

His Web site is:


I wasn’t thinking about writing this article up until I realized that the problem at hand is much larger than it seems.  About two weeks ago a good friend of mine, former student and a fellow police officer called me with an alarming concern. His conversation started with this statement -“Zarzoza, I don’t think I’m Mission Ready anymore”

For those that know me or have trained under me, know that “Mission Ready” is the trademark course I teach on Officer Safety that focuses on Warrior Mindset, Mental Preparation and fundamentals of personal safety.  So, I got seriously concerned for my friend that has taken my course several times to make such statement.

He went on by saying that he does not feel he is ready for the challenges of the job, he said he does not feel he is alert and at times he has caught himself making some terrible mistakes that he knew could have been fatal but for some reason or another, he was able to recover unscathed.
I let him vent knowing that he would (more than likely) provide the very own answers to his very own problems.  So he added that he didn’t understand why.  He said he is “barely 30 years old, works out daily, maintains a healthy nutrition, keeps his mind busy and after 7 years in the field he already feels tired…”

I was about to start a presentation, so I asked him to stop by my office a few hours later to further talk about his concern.  Somewhat undecided he agreed and a few hours later he stopped by my office proudly wearing his sharp looking deputy sheriff’s uniform.

Before I go on, let me tell you all this. I am not a fitness professional, a nutrition specialist or a health advisor, but all it took for me to realize what was the problem behind this warrior’s concern was just a look at his face.  Not his body. He definitely works out and has become an avid crossfit practitioner with very obvious results. However, the problem does not lay on the warrior’s body, but on something else much more complex than that.  SLEEP DEPRIVATION.

I asked him how much he would sleep per night and his answer came back with the common young warrior’s smirk and bravado “Sleep? oh man there is no time for sleep. For me it’s gym, work, family, repeat… I’ll sleep enough when I am dead, SLEEP IS FOR WIMPS!

You see, when it comes to getting “Mission Ready” we all focus on the obvious; strength and conditioning training, cardiovascular endurance, defensive tactics, firearms proficiency, tactical training, etc.  And one thing some warriors tend to neglect is that sacred “system reset button” called sleep.

I believe that sleep and rest are paramount for efficient tactical performance, or just normal performance for God’s sake!
Good cognitive performance is central to successful operations.  Sleep deprivation impairs alertness, cognitive performance, and mood. The ability to “think straight” declines by 25 percent for every successive 24 hours that an individual is awake.  Brief fragmented sleep has little recuperative value and is similar to total sleep deprivation on its effects on performance.  Although sleep deprivation is not unique to law enforcement, its consequences are amplified by the very unique stressors and challenges that come with police work.

The point is that sleep deprivation is dangerous. Research has revealed that being awake for 19 hours produces impairments that are comparable to having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .05 percent. Being awake for 24 hours is comparable to having a BAC of roughly .10 percent. This means that in just five hours — the difference between going without sleep for 19 hours versus 24 hours — the impact essentially doubles.  If you work a 10-hour shift, then stop by the gym, then take care of some mundane chores, drive home (hoping you do not fall asleep at the wheel), catch a couple hours of sleep, then get up and go back to work — and you do this for a week — you may be driving your patrol unit while just as impaired as the last person you arrested for DWI!  (Log down one 95)…

Anyone who has had a few nights of poor sleep can tell you that insomnia is associated with depression. Insufficient sleep shuts down the pre-frontal cortex and can cause or exacerbate a number of psychological conditions, ranging from anxiety to PTSD to depression.

This impact on mood and mental health impacts our ability to do our jobs well, certainly impacts relationships and most definitely affects the way we perceive our own performance, just like my good friend stated “I don’t think I’m Mission Ready anymore”.

Most of us can recognize when we fell less “sharp” due to the cognitive decline from lack of sleep.  A very important finding presented by the Force Science Institute revealed that many of the egregious errors committed in law enforcement occur when officers are fatigued. Like I mentioned before, some of our officers are going to work with as little as 4 hours of sleep and with the level of impaired performance as those who have reached the legal blood alcohol limit!

If we really consider ourselves true warriors, we must understand the value of proper sleep and rest. We must start prioritizing sleep and ensure our bodies and brains are getting sufficient rest. We need to accept the fact that by failing to get sufficient sleep and rest, we are setting ourselves up for failure, poor tactical performance, unsafe reaction times and overall getting hurt.  Assuming we don’t end up hurt on the job, chronic sleep deprivation can result in a shorter life as well as chronic illness in the retirement years.  We are still on time to make some adjustments.

In our line of work, it’s natural to focus on the obvious things that help keep us and the public safe. Tactics, procedures, equipment and case law are all important training topics to help protect us. I’d like to see our culture appreciate the importance that sleep has on keeping us alive. Whether it’s being sharp in a split-second decision making situation, problem solving, or simply avoiding chronic disease, sleep is a critical piece of officer safety that is too often overlooked.

In conclusion, we live in a culture where functioning on little sleep seems to be a matter of honor, even bravado, “sleep is for wimps”.

As a country, we are getting 20 percent less sleep per night on average than we were 40 years ago, according to the National Sleep Foundation, which does sleep polls every few years. Average sleep times in the 1960s were about 8-1/2 hours per night. There has been a steady decline in sleep amounts, and now the average is 6-1/2 hours per night for working adults, and about 7 hours and 20 minutes on weekends. Those numbers decrease significantly if we narrow it down per occupation, and folks, us law enforcement officers commonly end up short changed in this department!

Again, I am not a health guru, a sports/fitness professional or a nutrition specialist, but I do not have to be any of that to value the contribution of a good old shut eye.  One thing I consider myself to be and with lots of pride is a modern day warrior and a warrior’s trainer, I am concerned not just with my own safety and performance, but with that one of my brothers and sisters in this profession. For that reason I do my research, maintain myself up to date and I am very passionate about sharing the little knowledge I have with others (warriors or not).  So if you ever think you are not performing up to par or feel that your performance (tactical or otherwise) seems to have decreased, ask yourself how much you sleep and make the necessary adjustments.  Then take a nap. 

After all, sleep is not for wimps, and as good warriors, we owe it to ourselves…

Sleep much my friends!

Antonio Zarzoza

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