Sleep and nutrition for police communicators

The importance of looking after yourself

Sleep, nutrition and physical health are deeply intertwined and contribute heavily to overall health and wellbeing. Each has a direct impact on the other and all three are equally as important.

Research shows that if just one of these gets out of shape, it can affect the others, potentially leading to increased stress and an overall decline in wellbeing.

Office based staff

Working in a busy comms environment it’s easy to get engrossed in your work. It’s important you make time to get up from your desk and away from your screen and get your body moving. Try some the following tips to increase your energy and improve your productivity:

  • Get up and have a quick walk around the office
  • Go and make a cuppa
  • Go and have a quick chat to a team member instead of sending an email
  • Do a couple of quick exercises or stretches
  • Have a drink of water to avoid dehydration
  • Take a walk at lunch time and get some fresh air
  • To avoid that afternoon slump, prepare a healthy lunch to take into work.

On call staff

This specific advice for on call workers has been provided by Sleep expert Dr Sophie Bostock and nutritionist Anna Earl. By following their advice and making some simple changes you should find dealing with on call becomes that bit easier.

Sleeping better whilst on call

The not knowing can be one of the worst things about being on-call, as it’s hard to prepare for something that may not happen.

Some of us struggle to get to sleep anyway, but it’s much harder when you are worrying about the possibility of being called out in the middle of the night. In this video, Sleep Scientist Dr Sophie Bostock covers how to sleep better whilst on call.

Top tips

Plan ahead
Plan for your on-call rota a few days before by getting some early nights and ‘banking’ some good quality sleep.
Sleep when you're ready
Don’t go to bed before you’re tired to avoid lying awake. Don’t worry about not waking up - you won’t sleep through a phone ringing especially if it’s right next to your bed.
Wind down
Allow a bit longer to wind down, have a relaxing bath, read a book or listen to some music don’t spend hours on your phone or computer.
Be mindful
If you’re struggling to switch off try practicing mindfulness techniques or try a breathing exercises.

The next day

If you’ve been up late working or called out in the middle of the night you are going to be tired the following day.

  • Give yourself plenty of time to get to work and if you can start a bit later then do.
  • Can you buddy up with someone who does the driving on your on-call week, share the commute, get a lift or use public transport to avoid driving
  • If you’ve been out for hours overnight, you probably shouldn’t be working the following morning, discuss and make arrangements with your line manager.
  • If you are allowed to work from home then do.

If you want to know more about improving your sleep check out our 'Better Sleep Toolkit' designed by The Sleep Scientist Dr Sophie Bostock, to support police officers, staff, and volunteers with fatigue and sleep problems. 

In this toolkit, you will find our four week better sleep online course, a series of webinars and some bite sized advice to help you improve your sleep.

Go to Better Sleep toolkit

How to eat healthily whilst on call

The unpredictable nature of on-call work can mean that regular meal-times and the discipline of eating a balanced diet goes out of the window. Grabbing a bar of chocolate and a coffee to fuel you so you can quickly focus, is common practice.

We all know those aren’t the ideal choices, but are you aware of the longer-term impact on your health if this is a regular habit? Our digestive system is not designed to function during the night; in a nutshell it responds to signals of light and dark from the sun to switch on and off. Practices, then, that are contrary to this natural rhythm, affect our ability to process food well. This in turn impacts our weight and heart health, increasing our risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes.

Whilst you cannot control the time, frequency and duration of your nocturnal disturbances when fulfilling this role, you can make more informed food choices to better sustain you. Foods that reduce the stress on your body that results from processed foods and caffeine, particularly when consumed during the night. Foods that don’t spike your blood sugar, cause you indigestion, heartburn and bloating.

In this video nutritionalist Anna Earl gives some great advice about what to eat when you're on call.

When you know your on-call duties, plan ahead:
  • Do some simple food planning and shopping in advance so you have healthy, nourishing foods on hand.
  • Aim to reduce reliance on sugary, high fat and processed foods. These are food groups to reduce in your diet anyway, but particularly during the night when digestion is not your body’s priority.
  • If you are called out, don’t leave the house hungry and empty-handed. That is the easiest route to a 3am drive-through Big Mac.
  • Invest in some handy food storage containers and prepare the foods listed below in advance, making it easy to grab and go if needed.
  • Don’t go to bed dehydrated. Your brain is almost ¾ water. Make sure you have had sufficient fluid intake during the day before your on-call night shift, to help it function well, as needed.
  • Keep a bottle of water by your bed and have a drink as you wake to take a call, to help you wake up. Avoid fruit juices, fizzy drinks and sweetened hot drinks which will immediately send your blood sugar high. This puts demand on your insulin production to re-balance your blood. Insulin production is reduced at night. This means that excess glucose is more likely to be stored as fat.
  • Sip on hot water with lemon and / or ginger to give you a temporary zing. Or try caffeine-free energy-boosting herbal teas if you are going to be up for a while, such as peppermint, ashwagandha and ginseng, though take caution with ginseng - it has reported energy-boosting properties, but can interact with some health conditions and medication, so seek advice first.


Stock up with these better choices

Savoury muffins.

These are perfect to grab and eat hot or cold. You can easily vary with different vegetables, cheeses and herbs. (Substitute the sunflower oil in recipes for extra virgin olive oil to make these even healthier). Check BBC food for a great selection of Savoury muffin recipes  BBC Good Food

Homemade soups.

Heat in minutes and transfer to an insulated flask / sealed mug to transport if called out. There’s some great soup recipes in our nutrition for wellbeing section.

Boiled eggs.

Boil 3-4 of these in advance and keep them refrigerated in lunchboxes ready to grab if you need to head out.

A bag of unsalted nuts.

A few of these provide a good source of protein and fibre to sustain your energy, manage appetite and curb cravings.

Overnight oats.

Soak a cup of oats in a glass jar with milk. Add berries, top with flaked almonds, cinnamon and yoghurt. This is a great breakfast option if you need a quick early meal. You can prepare enough of these to last your on-call period. Vary with cocoa powder, seeds, chopped hazelnuts / walnuts / and other fruits that don’t go brown quickly, such as tinned peaches, kiwi fruit, chopped frozen mango. Keep the fruit and nut toppings separate if you want to gently microwave the oats to have as porridge.

Natural yoghurt with mashed / pureed fresh or frozen fruit for a filling nutritious snack.

Rather than buying flavoured yoghurts that can be high in sugar.

Houmous and chopped vegetables.

Such as carrots, peppers, cucumber, sugar snap peas, roasted cauliflower.

Wholemeal wraps.

Pre-roll some wraps with fillings such as:-

  • Tuna, sweetcorn and salad
  • Houmous, roasted peppers and rocket lettuce
  • Grated or cream cheese, cucumber, and avocado.

Wholemeal bread to make toast with nut butter.

Remember: If you don’t need these during the night, your breakfast or lunch is already

Our nutrition for wellbeing programme will provide you with the knowledge of, how what you eat can improve both your physical and mental wellbeing.

There are webinars, recipes, lots of good advice and tips and more bite sized videos for you to take a look at.

Go to nutrition for wellbeing