Sleep, alertness and fatigue in emergency responders

Published 13 Dec 2021
Written by
Oscar Kilo
National Police Wellbeing Service
Reading time
10 mins

We have teamed up with experts at the University of Surrey to launch a new sleep disorders education and screening programme aimed at reducing fatigue and sleep problems in police officers and staff.

We’re inviting officers and staff from within UK policing to get involved – it’s quick, easy to do and it is completely anonymous. Please read on for more information and a link to the programme if you wish to take part.

The sleep, alertness and fatigue in emergency responders programme (SAFER), has been developed and designed by Professor Steven Lockley of the University of Surrey who has been studying sleep and circadian rhythms for over 25 years. While working at Harvard Medical School, he and his colleagues implemented similar education and screening programmes in police officers and firefighters and found that over a third of active duty personnel were at risk of at least one sleep disorder without knowing it.

In follow-up studies, these programmes resulted in many hundreds of police officers seeking treatment for their sleep disorder, helping their long-term health and, in one fire department study, led to nearly a 50% reduction in long-term disability days and a 24% lower odds of having an accident or injury on duty.

Why are we doing it?

Oscar Kilo, the National Police Wellbeing Service (NPWS) is making this programme available in response to the findings of the national wellbeing survey which highlighted fatigue as a big area of concern.

We know that those working in policing often experience high levels of fatigue due to long work hours, shift patterns, untreated sleep disorders and stress. This affects workplace performance, increases the risk of accidents and injuries, and impacts your long-term health.

Some of these risk factors can be minimised, and the aim of this programme is to identify the factors that affect workplace fatigue and identify approaches to reduce the risks.

One common reason for workplace fatigue is undiagnosed sleep disorders. Previous studies have shown that up to a third of police officers may be at risk of having a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnoea, insomnia or shift work sleep disorder.

How it works

The SAFER programme is open to anyone working within UK Policing to take part. You do not have to work shifts or be in frontline role, and you do not have to have any problems with sleep or fatigue. We want as many people as possible to take part so we get a representative picture of sleep issues.

It doesn’t take long and could provide you with some real benefits so it really is worth getting involved. Here’s a run down of the process.

  • You will first watch three, 15 minute educational videos on sleep health and hygiene, effective use of caffeine, and examples of how to manage different shift patterns. 
  • At the beginning, and again at the end, you will be asked some questions on sleep which will take less than 5 minutes.
  • These answers will be provided anonymously, and we will not know who you are.
  • Completion of the educational video is not considered part of the research study and is completely voluntary. You may watch the video and there is no obligation for you to go any further if you do not wish to.
  • Once you have watched the videos, you will then be invited to complete a screening survey to assess your risk of sleepiness, major sleep disorders and burnout.  
  • You will sign an online consent form to take part but again, the questionnaire is completely anonymous (we will not know your identity or police force) and no individual results will be shared with anyone, including with the force or occupational health.
  • After completing the questions, if the screening shows that you may be at risk of any of these disorders, then a letter will automatically be generated that you can save or print and take to your GP if you wish to.
Safer Sleep Study - How it works


Professor Steven W Lockley introduces our new SAFER sleep programme

The following video also explains a bit more about the study and the benefits of taking part.


How can I get involved?

We will be inviting police forces to make the link available via intranets and email – this link will be available until Mid February. If you can't find the link, please contact us from a or email address and a link can be forwarded on.

More information about our sleep and fatigue work

This programme is just one of a number of interventions that are being made available with regards to fatigue and shift work. To visit our sleep and fatigue pages to find out more about what else is on offer, please use the button below.

Go to sleep and fatigue interventions