Simple Life Hacks for Resilience in Law Enforcement: Featuring Lt. Col. Dave Grossman

Lt. Col. Dave Grossman talks with me about simple ways that Law Enforcement can impact their resilience. It’s Life Hacks with dave!


We are back with Lt. Dave Grossman for Part 2, Life Hacks! If you haven’t listened to Part 1: Sheepdog Mentality, make sure to go back and tune in to Episode 69. We are going to discuss some simple, but important life hacks, to help us all live a healthy, safe, and sleep fulfilled life.

Let’s get right into a few hacks that will help officers be more resilient!

The #1 Life Hack is Sleep!

Sleep Deprivation

Dave starts out by saying that we are currently living in an epidemic of sleep deprivation due to intrusive media, addictive video games, cell phones, and various technology platforms. If you ask any media guru what their biggest competition is, they will tell you it’s when people are sleeping. When we sleep, engagement in digital platforms halt. The public has become so engrossed in things like video games, that they are responsible for 15 percent of all divorces in America. 200 million people are playing games across all platforms at any given time.

There is a computer-driven algorithm to make it impossible to turn the game off therefore making this generation more addicted to technology. It is not just video games played on a console in the comfort of your own home. This also applies to games like Candy Crush. The sounds and lights of this game provide a dopamine (the pleasure neurotransmitter) hit that keeps us engaged. Texting, binging, watching social media all get in the way of sleep. The epidemic of sleep deprivation is not only caused by technology but also influenced by certain professions.

The Impact of Shift Work and Hypervigilance on Sleep in Law Enforcement

The single most harmful and destructive thing we are doing in our law enforcement community is enforcing rotating shifts of day and night work. It is destroying the quality of family life. If dealing with the norms of being a law enforcement family already isn’t difficult enough, the inconsistent schedules adds to the growing list of frustrations.

Every day our Law Enforcement officers work in a state of hypervigilance which takes approximately 18-25 hours to recover.  Due to the timing of shift work, sleep deprivation is constant, and recovery simply does not happen. When you factor in commute time and a little family time after a 12-hour shift, our officers are sitting at an 18-hour window without sleep. From what we know, 18 hours without sleep is like having an impaired judgment equal to that of a .08 BAC. After 24 hours, judgment is impaired equal to .10.

Sleep deprivation of two or more nights and you have psychotic episodes. Studies in the military show that a sleep-deprived soldier is 5x more likely to commit suicide. “Sleep deprivation is one of the greatest predictors of suicide.” The most pervasive form of impaired judgment is sleep deprivation and for those making life and death decisions, sleep should be prioritized and mandated.

Sleep Habits for Resilience in Law Enforcement

1. Naps.  Naps are our friend! The minimum nap we should be taking is 30 minutes because that’s how long it takes our body to fall into a deep, sleep cycle. Anything less than 30 minutes is considered a waste of time. Take the snooze alarm for example. The average snooze allows you to sleep for 10 minutes longer. Instead of hitting the snooze alarm 3 times for a total of 30 minutes of interrupted sleep, Lt Col. Grossman suggests setting an additional alarm 30 minutes later than your original wake time. This way, you can reap the benefits of falling into a deeper sleep pattern. You can sleep 30 minutes more every night, 3 ½ hours every week, 2 more full sleeps every month, and 24 more nights of sleep every year.

2. Darkness.  Sleep in complete darkness. Get blackout curtains and then add a sleep mask. A major study done in a sleep lab shows that the smallest amount of light in a dark room is enough to stop our bodies from producing the melatonin we need. As we get older our body produces less melatonin, so sleeping in complete darkness is crucial.

3. Reduce Alcohol Consumption.  Alcohol is not our friend for sleep. Data says a nightcap is fine, but three and four drinks disrupt our sleep patterns. With increased amounts of alcohol in our system, we can fall very quickly into a shallow sleep, but then we wake up an hour later and cannot go back to sleep. Alcohol destroys our quality of sleep, so limiting your consumption is key.

4. Limit Caffeine. In large amounts, it is destroying our quality of sleep and our bodies. The half-life of caffeine in our body is five hours. For instance, consuming caffeine at 5 pm is at half strength at 10 pm, making it easier for us to stay awake. If there is not a particular situation we need to stay awake for, we should be guarding our sleep and protecting our sleep cycle by cutting off caffeine shortly after lunch.

Caffeine in its entirety is not the enemy. It is when we become addicted to caffeine and build a tolerance for how much our bodies need. If you aren’t sure if you are addicted to caffeine, stop drinking it for one day and take note if you experience withdrawal symptoms such as headaches and uncontrollable shaking. The key to consuming caffeine safely is to control your intake, drink it in appropriate situations (need to stay awake on a long drive, shift work, etc.), and do not build up a tolerance. Once your body becomes tolerant to the amount of caffeine you are drinking, it may not have the desired impact.

Another important aspect of caffeine is the source. Data suggests that coffee and tea are safe to drink in small quantities and can extend our life expectancy by seven years. Caffeine ingested from soda and energy drinks are the sources to stay away from. They contain a mega-dose of caffeine and sugar and other ingredients to help your body metabolize the caffeine quickly. These drinks give us approximately an hour of energy then we crash. This can result in nodding off on the job and/or decreased performance.

Five Second Window

I mentioned to Lt Col Grossman that I have heard there is a five-second window to decide to bypass the path of least resistance when making a decision. If you don’t decide within five seconds the body takes you a different route whether its exercise or regarding your choice of a caffeinated beverage. Dave agreed and talked about when you are in life and death events, your sympathetic nervous system is triggered and you pick the fight or flight route. There is also a parasympathetic backlash to feed or breed.

Drink Water & Breathe Deeply 

Dave talks about his training with CISM and talking to EMS, Law Enforcement, and Firefighters about traumatic events they have experienced. He reminds us that reliving traumatic events is normal. It’s when we try and not think about the situation that drives us crazy. “The path to healing from PTSD is to separate the memory from the emotion.” In these training sessions, he states that there is always a bottle of water present. When someone becomes emotional talking about an event, he tells them to take a swig of water and breath.

The act of drinking (feed) and the act of swallowing send a signal to our brain that we are safe. Offering food and/or drink can often diffuse serious situations. The power of food can pull people from flight or fight to feed or breed. There may not always be water and food present in an intense situation, but we can always stop and take a breath.

Dave brings us to a concept called combat breathing. He explains this as breathing in four seconds, holding the breath four seconds, breathing out four seconds, and holding again for four seconds. We can control our breathing in an uncontrollable situation.

You Can Impact Your Resilience!

All of us can embrace our own sheepdog mentality and by embracing the locus of control. We can make life happen and this involves using these life hacks of sleeping, breathing, and having control over our mindset. We need to start to change the way officers are seen. Take away digital aspects that affect our children’s sleep and stop letting them view/see media that portrays our law enforcement as the enemy. These media depictions affect the way crime is happening and the safety of our officers.  We need to follow the Sheepdog mentality.

“I am a Sheepdog. I live to protect the flock and confront the wolf.” – Lt. Col Grossman


The Cop Doc

Dr. Ellen Kirschman, Author and Police Psychologist, talks about her involvement with the first responder support network and her love for writing.

Read More »

Simple Life Hacks for Resilience in Law Enforcement: Featuring Lt. Col. Dave Grossman

Lt. Col. Dave Grossman talks with me about simple ways that Law Enforcement can impact their resilience. It’s Life Hacks with dave!