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A Correctional Officer’s Nemesis – Sleep Deprivation
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 09/10/2012

Sleepdeprivation Working as a correctional officer has many occupational risks as they walk among convicted felons that have already demonstrated their high risk and propensity for violence when they committed the crime. Although not every prisoner is a violent offender, there are enough of them walking among the others that can “rock your world” in a moment’s notice if you are not alert while doing your job. Hence it is important that you rest and sleep appropriately before going to work. Whether you work eight or twelve hour shifts, fatigue can become a factor. When tagged for shift work or working overtime, the stress of staying alert is important and needs to be taken into account whenever and wherever you are doing your job inside the penitentiary.

Lacking of sleep is called “sleep deprivation.” It happens to many and can take place either over a short period of time or it can be forever lasting and lead to some unexpected results in your awareness levels, memory and other health complaints often traced due to lack of sleep. It goes without saying that a correctional officer’s alertness is severely impacted by sleepiness if the officer neglects his or her health needs while doing this most potentially dangerous job.

Your level of sleepiness at work is controlled by your environmental conditions that require you to be active and carry with you a constantly on arousal system that detects dangers in the environment or inactive roles with mundane or routine tasks at hand. The lack of alertness can have serious consequences for you and your co-workers if not taken into consideration before you report to work.

One would think the remedy for sleepiness is to sleep more. False, the fact is if you are not getting the quality sleep you need, no amount of sleep is going to re-charge your system to become alert and fresh again. Remember that the recovery period may vary from the young to the older thus there are many other factors you should consider.

Things to consider doing so you can get better sleep and effective re-charge of the body are fairly easy to remember and do. Examine your mattress and pillows. Replace if worn or invest in a mattress top that refreshes your old mattress’s support if the cost of the mattress is too much. Look at your room and see if there are things that keep you from sleeping. Consider things like the room temperature and decide whether it’s too hot or too cold to sleep in. Adjust your sleep environment accordingly and remember that once you do this, you body will eventually adjust and you may only have a temporary benefit from this adjustment thus making it a constant awareness to update or improve your sleep situation.

If you are feeling tired or fatigued all the time, think about a sleep study test to see how much sleep you are really getting. In this test you will also be made aware of how much oxygen you take in when asleep, level of REM you actually acquire and whether or not you have restless leg syndrome that robs you from getting good sleep.

It has been recommended by some that to counteract sleepiness; you must become more active and upgrade your activities to a higher level to get the benefits of the activity and avoiding sleepiness while on duty. The down side of this method of staying awake is the increased fatigue your body develops if the body does not get the required rest it needs to begin with thus turning down your alert level even more in the process. Adjust your sitting position to avoid being too comfortable. You may need to stand for a short while to remain alert. Surely it is harder to fall asleep when you are standing up [not leaning against the wall or object], so posture clearly can have some beneficial effects on sleep deprivation

Other than a brisk five minute walk to raise your heartbeat, try to work in more lighted areas as light will help you stay awake. It has been said by research that bright lights improve performance and if you have the ability to do this, use the lights to stimulate your activities and avoid sleepiness. Background noise or the change of background noise helps stimulate your senses. Avoid normal low hum noises and static type of noise as remember that one can get used to noise thus this method is not very effective in the long run. You only gain a modest benefit from raising the noise levels in your environment and that is a temporary benefit at the most and not always practical in some cases inside a prison or graveyard shift work.

Finally, in an attempt to deal with sleepiness or sleep deprivation, there is the ultimate resource out there for combating fatigue and sleepiness, caffeine. Aside from taking notice of these other suggestions, the best single treatment for sleepiness is found in common energy drinks and some foods. Coffee, tea, soda pop and chocolate are all stimulants and can increase awareness. Depending on any pre-existing medical conditions, you may opt to talk to a doctor before increasing your caffeine levels to stay awake.

Be prepared for some side effects such as headaches and even a slight withdrawal from the caffeine but if used in moderation, it should be safe. Make sure you don’t consume any of these products hours before going to sleep as it will interact with your ability to get good sleep if you take it just before hitting the bed. Most of all, when you are tired, take the time to address your condition and don’t ignore the symptoms and endanger yourself or others by being less alert on the job than is required.



Editor’s note: Carl ToersBijns (retired), worked in corrections for over 25 yrs He held positions of a Correctional Officer I, II, III [Captain] Chief of Security Mental Health Treatment Center – Program Director – Associate Warden - Deputy Warden of Administration & Operations. Car’s prison philosophy is all about the safety of the public, staff and inmates, "I believe my strongest quality is that I create strategies that are practical, functional and cost effective."

Other articles by ToersBijns:


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  2. jamesroomi on 07/18/2019:

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