Can the amount of sleep really affect a tactical athlete’s performance? After all, you’re trained for this, right, to go on 4 hours sleep and sometimes less then this for days and expected to perform correctly.
Sure, there are situations where you don’t have a choice, but when you do have the opportunity to get 6 and even 8 hours sleep, do you take it?
In a study, authored by Cheri Mah of Stanford University, she observed six healthy students on the Stanford men’s basketball team. They maintained their typical sleep-wake patterns for a two-week baseline followed by an extended sleep period in which they obtained as much extra sleep as possible. To determine improvements in athletic performance, the students were judged based on their sprint time and shooting percentages.
Significant improvements in athletic performance were observed, including faster sprint time and increased free-throws. Athletes also reported increased energy and improved mood during practices and games, as well as a decreased level of fatigue.
“Although much research has established the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation on cognitive function, mood and performance, relatively little research has investigated the effects of extra sleep over multiple nights on these variables, and even less on the specific relationship between extra sleep and athletic performance. This study illuminated this latter relationship and showed that obtaining extra sleep was associated with improvements in indicators of athletic performance and mood among members of the men’s basketball team.”
OK, sure this study was done on young competitive athletes and not tactical athletes, but the amount of sleep a person gets does affect their physical health, emotional well-being, mental abilities, productivity and performance.
Additional recent studies associate lack of sleep with serious health problems such as an increased risk of depression, obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Eve Van Cauter, Ph.D., from the University of Chicago Medical School, studied the effects of three different durations of sleep in eleven men aged 18 to 27. For the first three nights of the study, the men slept eight hours per night; for the next six nights, they slept four hours per night; for the last seven nights, they slept 12 hours per night.
Results showed that after four hours of sleep per night (the sleep deprivation period), they metabolized glucose least efficiently. Levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) were also higher during sleep deprivation periods. This has been linked to memory impairment age-related insulin resistance, and impaired recovery in athletes.
Now this should spark some interest for tactical athletes, especially memory impairment.
Van Cauter said that after only one week of sleep restriction, young, healthy males had glucose levels that were no longer normal and showed a rapid deterioration of the body’s functions. This reduced ability of the body to manage glucose is similar to those found in the elderly.
This study is interesting because it shows that sleep deprivation can negatively impact physiology that is critical for tactical athletic performance — glucose metabolism and cortisol status.
Sure, no one fully comprehends the nuances of sleep, but much research does indicate that sleep deprivation can lead to increased levels of cortisol (a stress hormone), decreased activity of human growth hormone (which is active during tissue repair), and decreased glycogen synthesis.
In addition, several other studies associate sleep deprivation with decreased aerobic endurance and increased ratings of perceived exertion.
What Does This Mean?
Glucose and glycogen (stored glucose) are the main sources of energy for a tactical athlete, when they are engaged in a physical altercation. Being able to store glucose in muscle and the liver is particularly important for endurance type events. Those tactical athletes who are sleep deprived may experience slower storage of glycogen, which prevents storage of the fuel for their needs for endurance events beyond 90 minutes.
Elevated levels of cortisol may interfere with tissue repair and growth. Over time, this could prevent an athlete from responding to heavy training and lead to overtraining and injury.
Intoxication and Sleep Deprivation
Sleep deprivation is similar to excessive drinking. A sleep deprivation study found that not sleeping for 17 hours impaired a person’s motor skills to an extent equivalent to having an alcohol toxicity of 0.05 percent.
Not sleeping for 24 hours was equivalent to a toxicity level of 0.10 percent. This level of deprivation would impair speech, balance, coordination and mental judgment.
Sleep deprivation can cause work-related accidents. A study found that four out of eight tactical athletes involved in on-the-job accidents and injuries were impaired because of fatigue. Such accidents include automobile crashes that were due to officers’ impaired eye-hand coordination and propensity to nod-off behind the wheel. Other work related injuries come from accidents that occur when officers have impaired balance and coordination.
Research On Fatigued For Tactical Athletes Shows:
- Use more sick leave.
- Practice inappropriate uses of force more frequently.
- Become involved in more vehicle accidents.
- Experience more accidental injuries.
- Have more difficulty dealing with community members and other law enforcement agencies.
- Have a higher likelihood of dying in the line of duty.
Despite the impact of fatigue, many tactical athletes continue to work double shifts, triple shifts and second jobs. Some work well over 1,000 hours of overtime a year. Excessive work with inadequate rest over a long period of time can make officers sleep-deprived — 53 percent of officers report an average of 6.5 hours of sleep or less.
Fatigue Can Harm Tactical Athletes Mental Strength By:
- Increasing mood swings.
- Impairing judgment.
- Decreasing an officer’s adaptability to certain situations.
- Heightening an officer’s sense of threat.
- Increasing anxiety or depression.
- Increasing the chances of mental illness (e.g., officers may develop post-traumatic stress disorder or bipolar disorder).
Fatigue Can Harm Tactical Athletes Physical Health By:
- Reducing eye-hand coordination.
- Causing an officer to gain weight.
- Causing pain (e.g., backaches, headaches).
- Making an officer unable to relax (e.g., cause restless sleep, provoke heightened alert response).
- Causing gastrointestinal problems (e.g., loss of appetite, abdominal distress or ulcers).
- Damaging the cardiovascular system (e.g., causing heart disease, arteriosclerosis or congestive heart failure).
Why Tactical Athletes Need Rest and Recovery
It is the alternation of adaptation and recovery that takes the tactical athlete to a higher level of fitness. High-level tactical athletes need to realize that the greater the training intensity and effort, the greater the need for planned recovery.
During off duty monitoring your workouts with a training log, and paying attention to how your body feels and how motivated you are is extremely helpful in determining your recovery needs and modifying your training program accordingly.
Also, tactical athletes usually don’t speak up about how stress affects their lives. Most departments have an unspoken code of silence about the stress and strain that comes with police work. For most tactical athletes, the work ethic and culture of law enforcement appears to accept fatigue as part of the job.
Additionally, supervisors do not always see how overtime causes work-related injuries and accidents. And many tactical athletes are willing to risk their health because overtime provides additional income.
Some Methods for Avoiding Fatigue:
- Engage in physical activity.
- Take time away from work.
- Avoid overtime hours.
- Don’t take on second jobs or moonlighting.
- Use a schedule that minimize overtime and shift rotation.
Other Ways of Avoiding Fatigue
- Perform Active Recovery after your workouts
- Crosstrain with a completely different activity such as yoga, stretching, or going for a walk on your day off.
- Have a Massage on your rest day to help reduce muscle aches, pains and soreness.
- Get Adequate Sleep
- Eating for Sports Performance includes getting enough of the right calories for your training intensity and your individual requirements.
- Eating Before “Competing” – the Pre-Exercise Meal
- Eating for Recovery – the Post-Exercise Meal
Other Studies on Tactical Athlete Fatigue
- Testing the Effectiveness of a Comprehensive Police Fatigue Management Program – Brigham and Women’s Hospital – 2004-FS-BX-0001 – This project is testing the effectiveness of a comprehensive police fatigue management program and surveying police across the nation on their health and safety. The results will help establish national fatigue-management guidelines for law enforcement agencies.
- Prospective Study of Traumatic Stress in Police Officers – University of California in San Francisco – 2004-FS-R-100 – This study tests police academy recruits for risk factors and resilience to traumatic stress symptoms and general psychiatric distress in the first two years of police service.
- Police Fatigue: Physiological, Psychological, Family and Operational Outcomes – SUNY in Buffalo – 2004-FS-R-097
- A National Assessment of the Risks and Benefits of Shift Practices and Related Policies in Law Enforcement: Impact on Officer and Organizational Performance – The Police Foundation – 2005-FS-BX-0057 – This study will examine how police department scheduling practices can be altered to more effectively manage shift work and nonstandard schedules. Researchers will determine whether variable shift lengths affect police health, safety, performance and quality of life. Police can use this information to create lower risk scheduling policies that better manage officers’ health.
- Shifts, Extended Work Hours and Fatigue: An Assessment of Health and Personal Risks for Police Officers – SUNY in Buffalo – 2005-FS-BX-0004 – Researchers will examine how the work and overtime hours officers accrue over the course of their career can lead to adverse outcomes, including errors, accidents, stress, disease, depression, and death. They will examine the entire Buffalo police department and a cohort of Buffalo officers employed between 1950 and 2004.
- An abstract of this research was presented June 13 at SLEEP 2007, the 21st Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies (APSS).
 Dawson, D. and K. Reid (1997). Fatigue, alcohol and performance impairment. Nature. 388:235. View abstract Exit Notice.
 Vila, B.J. (2000). Tired Cops: The Importance of Managing Police Fatigue. Washington DC: Police Executive Research Forum.
 Vila, B.J. and D.J. Kenney. (2002). Tired cops: The prevalence and potential consequences of police fatigue (pdf, 6 pages). National Institute of Justice Journal. 248:16-21.
 Dijk, D.J., D.F. Neri, J.K. Wyatt, J.M. Ronda, E. Riel, A. Ritz-De Cecco, R.J. Hughes, A.R. Elliott, G.K. Prisk, J.B. West, and C.A. Czeisler (2001). Sleep, performance, circadian rhythms, and light-dark cycles during two space shuttle flights. American Journal of Physiology. 281:R1647-R1664. View abstract Exit Notice.
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