Night and Biology Conspire Against Security Guard Vigilance

Security officers are tasked with being vigilant at all times. Unfortunately, many biological and environmental factors conspire to make vigilance all the more difficult for officers forced to work late-night shifts.

In a recent ASIS CRISP report titled Fatigue Effects and Countermeasures in 24/7 Security Operations, James C. Miller, currently a consultant with Miller Ergonomics and formerly with the Air Force Research Laboratory, reports that during night work, productivity and efficiency decrease and safety risks rise. Miller told Security Management that humans are essentially not wired to work at night.

The report cites research findings that all humans need about eight hours of sleep a night, and when they do not get that, they start accruing a sleep deficit that needs to be addressed at some point. That can happen to anyone, but it’s a particular problem for night workers because of various environmental factors such as the abundance of light and general noise during the daytime when they need to both sleep and address social and family obligations.

Night work presents an added challenge because it goes against human biology. Humans have at least four systems in the brain that are operating at night and encourage us to sleep, says Miller. Among them are the circadian rhythm and homeostasis, which Miller describes as something of a sleep thermostat that triggers sleep when it’s needed. Those systems work together to keep us alert during the day and asleep at night.

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