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Sleep... Zzzzzzzz

Beyond The Blue was privileged to have Dr. Samuels at our Behind the Badge conference, Thrive and Survive on November 7, 2015.

When Dr. Charles Samuels first got involved with sleep medicine, he was working as a young family doctor in a small town in rural Alberta. “One night after a lengthy period of extended night shifts in the hospital emergency room and being on call 24/7, I literally drove off the road into the ditch. I knew I was exhausted, but I was in the habit of reserving whatever energy I had left for when I was seeing patients. When I hit the ditch, my life changed. I started to study the science of sleep and immediately discovered there was a real gap in the health system in terms of providing support to people who are not getting adequate sleep. And a lot of people aren’t getting enough sleep for many different reasons.”

Fast forward to 2015. Dr. Samuels is now Medical Director of the Centre for Sleep & Human Performance in Calgary. He is a Diplomat of the American Board of Sleep Medicine, has served as a Vice President with the Canadian Sleep Society and is current Chair of the Alberta Medical Association’s Insomnia Clinical Practice Guideline Committee. Additionally, he serves as a professor with the Faculties of Kinesiology and Medicine at the University of Calgary, which is his way of ensuring that the next generation will recognize sleep as a critical element to health and wellbeing.

Dr. Samuels is also regarded as an expert in the area of sleep disturbance and the health consequences of shift work based on his work with the Calgary Police Service Health and Human Performance Research Initiative – a ten year research project that explored the impact of rotating shift work on the health and performance of police officers. Based on this experience with the police force, Dr. Samuels was invited to attend this year’s Behind the Badge conference as a keynote speaker. The key takeaways from Dr. Samuels’ talk were:

  • Cops sleep less: 53% of police get less than 6.5 hours of sleep daily (versus 30% of general public), 91% of police report being routinely fatigued, and 40% have sleep difficulties such as Shift Work Sleep Disorder.

  • Being fatigued is comparable to drinking alcohol: Fatigue affects alertness, cognition, hand-eye coordination, task speed and accuracy. Studies show that 17-19 hours awake equates to a 0.05% blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and 24 hours awake equates to 0.10% BAC.

  • There are physical, metabolic, emotional and social consequences of fatigue and shift work: In the day-to day, fatigue interferes with a person’s ability to pay attention, impairs physical and cognitive functioning, reduces perspective and understanding, increases anxiety, irritability and hostility, worsens mood, and narrows perception. Chronic sleep deprivation is known to increase cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and metabolic diseases, chronic insomnia, sleep apnea and other sleep disorders, and psychological disorders, depression, suicide and family dysfunction.

  • If you recognize symptoms of a sleep disorder encourage the officer to get HELP!

If you or an officer you know is not receiving adequate sleep, some of the resources available to help include:

  • The Fatigue Management Course offered through the Health Safety and Wellness section at the Calgary Police Service Chief Crowfoot Learning Centre;

  • CPS Psychological Services and/or the CPS Medical Clinic; and

  • Links and other information available on the Centre for Sleep & Human Performance website at

You can also call the Centre for Sleep & Human Performance direct at (403) 254-6663 to receive further direction and advice with regard to your unique situation and needs.

“There is help out there for those working shifts and others with critical roles in protecting the public’s safety. If you are not getting sufficient sleep, you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to get some help” says Dr. Samuels. The Centre for Sleep & Human Performance is a proud supporter of the Calgary Police Association and Calgary Police Service.

Testimonial From a CPS Member:

I knew being a police officer would require me to work long hours and shift work but I thought that I could figure out the ”magic pattern” to overcome the toll it took on me. When I was younger the shifts didn’t seem to bother me that much but as the years went by I began to feel tired all of the time. I would go to bed early and still wake up tired. As soon as my head hit the pillow, I felt like my alarm clock went off right away. I would hit the snooze button once, twice or three times before I would drag myself out of bed. I was eating junk food at work just to keep going until the end of shift. I was gaining weight and felt terrible.

It wasn’t until last year, when I volunteered for a health study within the department, that I was diagnosed with sleep apnea. I reported that I was tired and never felt rested, so I was referred to a sleep clinic. I never thought that I could ever have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea was always something I associated to the morbidly obese. I learned that sleep apnea affects a lot of police officers too. I was shocked that I could have this disorder because of my preconceived notions of who had this problem. I began my sleep testing after spending a night at the clinic with what felt like 100 wires hanging off of my head. The computer calculated how many times I was not actually sleeping. I am not going to get into the medical jargon, but I wasn’t in a deep enough sleep to rest. As soon as I got the trial CPAP machine I could feel the benefits right away. Even after 4 to 6 hours of sleep with the machine, I felt like I slept for 10. I don’t have to wear the big Darth Vader mask either! I use a smaller nasal mask that fits very comfortably on may face. My moods changed immediately, my level of energy increased and my quality of life went up. That alone should have been enough for me to start this testing earlier in my life, but I was stubborn and didn’t want to admit that I might have a problem. My advice to anyone feeling the way that I did is to go get tested. You have everything to lose if you don’t. - Dave Dalton

On the Flip Side:

Being married to a police officer has it inherent challenges as many of you already know and can talk freely about but I was not aware of how shift work can mess with a person’s internal clock and how it can impact your daily life. It was not until we had our third child, and was on maternity leave therefore home, until I started to recognize how much my husband would sleep but how terrible he looked, the irritability and the ongoing complaints that he was still tired. I thought to myself “How can this be? How can an individual sleep for 10 + hours and still complain about being tired? Especially as I had a newborn and was clearly not sleeping either but able to function!” I was thrilled that he had volunteered for a health study, but shocked that he was being sent to a sleep clinic. In one night after receiving the CPAP machine I could see the difference in my spouse demeanor and the general mood he was in. He was the first one out of bed and singing while making breakfast – on a school day to bout! It was clear that he had received a “good nights” sleep. If we only knew this before, that he was not receiving the sleep required even though he was sleeping! I would encourage everyone to attend a sleep appointment to make a determination if you too may suffer from something so common in the policing field. - Amanda Dalton

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