Study: Working overnights now classified as a carcinogen, and a lack of sleep is slowly killing Americans

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Sleep, we all need it, but a great majority of Americans do not get enough, especially those in law enforcement. Shift work and tensions related to the job wreak havoc on sleep.

In fact, overnight shift work has been classified by International Agency for Research on Cancer as a Group 2A carcinogen.

Working the night shift nearly doubles the risk of suffering a workplace injury, and research published in the Workplace Health & Safety journal found that police officers who work during the night shift are 14 times more likely to be chronically sleep deprived.

Sleep deprivation is linked with an increased risk of metabolic syndrome (symptoms such as excess body fat, high triglycerides, elevated blood pressure and elevated blood sugar levels), depressed immune system, weight gain, hormone disruption, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, depression, anxiety and many more issues.

Sleep is a necessity for nearly all functions of the body from hormone production, tissue/organ repair and protection from diseases. It affects mental, physical, and emotional performance as well.

Lack of sleep is linked to a decreased quality of work, creating more errors, and taking longer to complete tasks. Basically, if your sleep is off, everything is off!

Our sleep functions around a 24-hour clock. As soon as you wake up, your body starts increasing cortisol, a hormone that helps with staying alert. When it starts getting dark, cortisol production halts and melatonin starts to increase.

Melatonin is a hormone that assists in falling asleep. To get optimum sleep, we must have routines that support the production of cortisol and melatonin at the right times.

Artificial lighting at the wrong time causes long term disruption in the circadian rhythm. Melatonin production is affected by lights, especially blue lights. Your bedroom should be as dark as possible, and you should limit screen time (computer, tv, phone) for 90 minutes before bed because they decrease the amount of melatonin production.

If you cannot stay away from your devices before bedtime, consider getting a pair of blue light blocking glasses.

Nutrition is also a vital part of sleep. Inside your gut are trillions of microorganisms which include both good and bad bacteria. Having an imbalance in your gut bacteria can have serious effects on your sleep. Processed foods and foods with sugar feed the bad bacteria in your gut. An increase in bad bacteria is related to poor sleep.

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Three substances that greatly inhibit your sleep rhythm are caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. Caffeine is a savior when you are tired, but it can also greatly interfere with your sleep rhythm if consumed too late it the day.

Caffeine blocks adenosine receptors and it tricks the brain into thinking we are not tired. Adenosine gradually builds up while awake, and it is what is responsible for what makes us feel sleepy by the end of the day.

Caffeine also elicits the adrenal glands to produce two anti-sleep hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, and it also suppresses melatonin production. Alcohol may help with falling asleep, but it prevents the body from entering deep, restorative sleep.

Alcohol causes an increase in blood sugar levels. During the middle of the night, blood sugar levels crash, causing you to wake up.

Alcohol also relaxes muscles and can cause snoring, which will interfere with sleep. Nicotine is a stimulant which suppresses deep sleep and causes nighttime waking.

Stress is a major factor in sleep. Stress throughout the day builds and can trigger a stress response in the body, which means an increase in cortisol. If your body has elevated cortisol all day and night, you will not get proper sleep.

Deep breathing and meditation can help reduce stress and improve sleep. There are various types of apps which teach meditation such as Headspace, Calm, Aura, Insight Timer and 10% Happier.

Increased body temperature at night will lead to a heightened state of arousal and can make it difficult to fall asleep. The optimum temperature of your bedroom should be 60 – 68 degrees.  Also avoid activities such as taking a hot bath and exercising near bedtime. Exercise late at night also increases cortisol, which will inhibit sleep.  

The body has a natural cycle or circadian rhythm for everything, sleep included, and it thrives off routines. The most beneficial sleep hours are between 2200 and 0200. It is during this time when the natural hormone secretions line up with sleep.

Try to make it to bed before 2200 hours and sleep for 7 – 9 hours per night. Trying to make up sleep on the weekends is not possible. Your body does not understand the concept of banking sleep.

Some may think that sleeping pills are the magic answer but taking a pill does not address the root of the problem, it just provides a band aid. Taking over the counter sleeping pills can have serious consequences as studies have shown that using sleeping pills can be linked to increased mortality rates.

Melatonin is touted as the magic sleep medicine recently. It should be noted that Melatonin is only approved over the counter in the United States and Canada, it is only given by prescription in the United Kingdom.

Taking Melatonin long term can cause desensitization of the melatonin receptors in your brain. Safer alternatives are magnesium, L-theanine, L-tryptophan, GABA, Valerian Root, Skullcap, B vitamins, Glycine, Kava Kava and Chamomile (always consult your doctor before taking any herbal supplements).

Remember a good night’s sleep starts the moment you wake up.

Tips to Improve Sleep:

  • Spend plenty of time in direct sunlight during the day. Sunlight is most beneficial between the hours of 0630 – 0830. Take off your sunglasses as much as possible, they inhibit the benefits of natural exposure to light.
  • Open your curtains as soon as you wake to let in natural sunlight
  • Watch the amount of time, especially 90 minutes before bed, spent on devices that emit artificial light (blue light such as on phones, tablets, computers, tv, etc.).
  • If you are using devices before bed, consider using blue light blocking glasses.
  • Limit caffeine (coffee, soda, chocolate) 6 hours before bedtime.
  • Optimal sleep temperature is between 60 – 68 degrees.
  • Take a warm bath 1 ½ – 2 hours before bedtime.
  • Get to sleep around 4 – 5 hours of it becoming dark outside.
  • Maintain a regular sleeping schedule, with going to bed and waking within an hour.
  • Limit sugar and processed foods.
  • Reserve using your bedroom for sleeping and sexual activity only. Read, watch TV, play on your phone in another room (or at least not in your bed).
  • Add an air ionizer or house plant to your bedroom to improve air quality.
  • Blackout sleeping areas, you should not be able to see your hand in front of your face (this includes clock readouts and nightlights).
  • Exercise either early morning or 4 – 6 hours before bedtime to create optimal hormone production for sleep.
  • Maintain optimal weight.
  • Limit eating within 90 minutes before bedtime. Any evening snacks should be high-fat, low-carbohydrate.
  • Limit alcohol consumption, especially 3 hours before bedtime.
  • Use deep breathing and meditation to help calm inner chatter.
  • Use topical magnesium spray before bed (Consult your doctor before using).
  • Natural solutions such as Valerian, Kava Kava, and Chamomile are easier on your body than sleeping pills.

If you would like to learn more about sleep and how to improve it, check out the books Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson or Better Sleep, Better You by Frank Lipman and Neil Parikh.

Jennifer Gastelum is a senior probation officer in the Southwest and a certified performance coach with Thin Blue Line Performance Coaching. Her passion is working solely with law enforcement, helping officers take back control of their lives by helping them achieve their goals. If you would like to function at peak performance in both your professional and personal life, visit Jennifer at www.ThinBlueLineCoaching.com for more information.

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Editor note: In 2020, we saw a nationwide push to “defund the police”.  While we all stood here shaking our heads wondering if these people were serious… they cut billions of dollars in funding for police officers.  And as a result, crime has skyrocketed – all while the same politicians who said “you don’t need guns, the government will protect you” continued their attacks on both our police officers and our Second Amendment rights.

And that’s exactly why we’re launching this national crowdfunding campaign as part of our efforts to help “re-fund the police”.

For those looking for a quick link to get in the fight and support the cause, click here.


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