Cardiovascular health, stress and sleep of shift working police officers : a physiological assessment

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Police officers have been reported to experience a high incidence of chronic health issues (Kales et al., 2009; Hartley et al., 2011), which present prematurely in an otherwise healthy population (Bonneau & Brown, 1995; Barron, 2010). Shift work has also been associated with an increased prevalence of cardiovascular, stress and sleep disorders (Åkerstedt & Wright, 2009; Pan et al., 2011; Jermendy et al., 2012; Zimberg et al., 2012; Hamta et al., 2017), attributed primarily to its propensity for circadian rhythm dysfunction (Shen et al., 2006; Gamble et al., 2011). However, contention exists as to whether shift work has a direct effect upon blood pressure (BP) regulation (Hublin et al., 2010; Sfreddo et al., 2010; Ohlander et al., 2015). The present study explores the associations between shift work and the stress, sleep and cardiovascular health of general duties police officers, as well as comparing within subgroups based on sex, shift and occupational rank. Recruited participants were added to an existing database (Elliott & Lal, 2016) (n=100) to produce a total sample of N=255 general duties police officers. Endorsed by the New South Wales (NSW) Police Force and Police Association of NSW, observations were made across nine Local Area Commands in a cross-sectional model. The experimental protocol involved BP measurements, taken before and after their regular twelve hour shift, in combination with a comprehensive questionnaire battery. Participants completed the following tools, including the Lifestyle Appraisal Questionnaire (Craig et al., 1996), Epworth Sleepiness Scale (Johns, 1991), Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (Buysse et al., 1989), Checklist of Individual Strength (Vercoulen et al., 1994), Fatigue Severity Scale (Krupp et al., 1989), Ways of Coping Questionnaire (Folkman et al., 1986) and Survey of Shiftworkers (Folkard et al., 1995). Systolic BP was found to significantly increase (p<0.05) after shift work for the total sample, female officers, senior constables and police working a day shift, although these changes were relatively small. A substantial number of significant associations were also identified with BP, even after accounting for the covariates of age, sex, waist-hip ratio and lifestyle risk factors. Subjects’ perception of stress was within normal ranges for the majority, likely due to the significant associations found with preferable coping style prevalence. By comparison, poor sleep quality and severe fatigue was found to predominate within the sample, almost irrespective of sex, shift or occupational rank. Finally, many significant differences were also found amongst police officers when compared between the aforementioned subgroups. Based on these initial findings, further insight has been made into the detrimental effects shift work may have upon the cardiovascular and sleep health of individuals. Future research must incorporate more physiological measurements, as well as assess the efficacy of suggested interventional programmes which seek to ameliorate fatigue and bolster coping mechanisms. Not only would this reduce potential accidents and associated costs for the NSW Police Force, but most importantly also improve the occupational health and safety of the global shift working community at large.
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