Blue Flower

Sleep patterns, working around the clock, different types of light, and our personality type all impact on our sleeping habits; and Well-being.

Cartoon Cop1The time of day when a person functions at their best, or their 'Chronotype,' has been a subject scientists have a burgeoning interest in. We explore the extent to which this can impact on the Police, and in particular to those who work 24/7.  Broadly split into 'Larks' and 'Owls', knowing your own type (or ‘circadian preference’) can assist you to lead a healthier lifestyle. It seems our 'Circadian Rhythm' is born out of our instinct to feed, 'early bird catches the worm' and all that. The rhythm is set by our reaction to day and night (light), our 'body clock', with some of us reacting [to daylight] slowly (Owls); and some more quickly (Larks)! 

It appears Owls work better, harder and more creatively later in the day, Larks are better in the morning. If you are somewhere in the middle you may be the perfect response officer! However, it seems our type may alter with age. Broadly speaking, the very young and the elderly take on a morning preference. Teenagers are usually the opposite, an explanation for you mums and dads; so do not despair!

Over-riding your clock, for example to go to work at unsociable hours, can make us feel unwell, and may result in unhealthy outcomes such as sleep deprivation. This in turn can expose us to more serious health issues if continued over long periods (years). Problems such as cardio vascular disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers have been recorded.  

Cartoon Cop3There is well-documented evidence detailing the difficulties in sleeping that those involved in Policing around the clock experience. They are regularly faced with levels of violence, distress and emotional upset that would be unimaginable to the majority of the populace. On top of this are a number of government and organisational challenges that are being brought about as a result of the comprehensive spending review; and cause additional stressors within the service.

To combat sleep deprivation astronauts have used 'blue light' to wake and 'red light' to sleep. Seemingly these types of light encourage the brain to react accordingly, hence looking at TV, computers or tablets (we're talking Samsung and iPad here, not a packet of Paracetamols!) is not particularly helpful if you're trying to nod off. Blue light inhibits the production of the hormone melatonin, which is released by the brain as daylight fades, inducing that drowsy feeling necessary for a good night’s kip. So checking our phone or answering emails before we want to nod off should definitely be avoided. Don't worry though, scientists are busy working on technologies for us down here on earth too!

The news for shift workers, getting to some relevance here (eventually!), is that there is ongoing research in to what shift patterns fit best with various Chronotypes; including optimum number of nights, recovery days and so on. For now it appears getting enough hours sleep is the key, whichever timespan within the 24hr clock this happens for you. If you can't afford a 'Star Trek' sleeping pod (we're not sure these exist actually), Mindfulness practices may be the answer. 

Mindfulness is unavoidable at the moment. It pops up on TV and radio, in the daily broadsheets, popular magazines, and in 1000’s of books on the subject. It is being heralded as a remedy for insomnia, an aid to focus and concentration, a technique to improve engagement, work satisfaction, and productivity. It is also used to reduce stress and combat depression and anxiety by relaxing the mind and body and in turn increasing emotional resilience.

So what is mindfulness? It is a calm and clear state of mind, the result of letting go of anxieties by simply bringing our undivided attention into the present moment. It is an open and unbiased attitude that is able to take in the bigger picture, which of course, iuseful in a professional and personal capacity as it results in more effective communication and better relationships, which in turn impact upon our health and wellbeing.

 

Mindfulness is the ability to pay full attention to what is happening ‘now’, with an open and curious mind. It’s a skills set that is learnt using a simple technique that helps us to shift our focus from what we have been doing, or will be doing, to what we are doing now. And that is a particularly useful skill if you want to get to sleep!

Mindfulness practices are proven scientifically to improve sleep, as they help us to develop greater focus and concentration, reduce stress and improve resilience. They actually alter the structure and the function of the brain, which it turns out, has a ‘plastic’ quality (known as ‘neuroplasticity’). This is great news because it means we can train the brain – you really can ‘teach an old dog new tricks.' No medication, alcohol or other suppressants involved; so why not give it a try?

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