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Tired Teachers

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I've written a lot about sleep-deprived parents, kids, and students, but I don't think I've given teachers the nod lately, if ever.

According to a new Ball State University study that I just read about online, teachers in the US are among the sleep-deprived and admit to being "impaired" in the classroom. The total cost of this deprivation across the US (not just among teachers) is estimated to be $100 billion annually from workplace accidents, decreased productivity, and absenteeism. Yes, that's billion with a B. Where's the bailout plan for that?

Teachers Are Just as Tired As Students

What this study really says is that teachers are equally at risk as the rest of us for losing sleep, and losing productivity and mental clarity with it.

Their students may go home at 3, but teachers have plenty on their plates to keep them up at night and pushing past their bedtimes (even the biology teachers who should know the value of a good night's rest). They've got papers to grade, lessons to plan, "problem" kids to worry about, and their own personal lives to deal with.

Nearly 45 percent of teachers work part-time jobs to pay the bills. (I was surprised to learn this, but that also includes after-school coaching.) And the study revealed that about 43 percent sleep an average of 6 hours or less each night. Yikes. And about 64 percent say they feel drowsy during the school day. I guess they actually do have something in common with students. Now that explains why your kid says Mrs. Robinson is always so cranky!

Makes you wonder how all this sleep-deprivation affects our children's learning potential, not to mention their supervision.

Is There a Solution?

I think this recent study at least makes us all more aware of the problem. But we have to begin to devise programs that bring sleep to the forefront of priorities.

Do "wellness programs," for example, at schools include the teachers? Can they create wellness programs specifically for the faculty and their unique issues? And will they highlight the need for sufficient sleep? Health programs at schools often regurgitate the same old same old: eat well, exercise, and practice good hygiene (and in some instances, depending on grade level and religious affiliation or not, practice safe sex).

I'd like to see sleep establish a more prominent place in the conversation... and direct one conversation to the student body and another to the faculty and staff. The take-home message would be the same (get restful sleep regularly), but the strategies would be tailored to each group of people. A student's sleep habits (and reasons for being sleep-deprived) won't necessarily be the same as those for his teachers.

5 Ways to Take the Tired Out of the Teacher

  1. Set a bedtime and stick to it. If you haven't graded all of your papers yet, save them for the morning or hand them back to students a day later.
  2. Be choosy about which part-time job you do, if any. If working from 3 PM to 9 PM doing something else is barely paying the bills (and wearing you thin), it may be time to re-evaluate what you're doing.
  3. Maximize the time you have to yourself during the day... such as at lunch, in between classes, or when the kids are at recess. Maybe use this time to do some deep breathing or have a 20-minute nap (no work!).
  4. If you use caffeinated beverages to get through your afternoons, see if you can cut back or switch to less caffeinated options after 2 pm. This means swapping out the Coke or Diet Coke for green or herbal tea. Don't fill your coffee cup up in the teacher's lounge either.
  5. Keep a journal by your bedside at night, where you can take notes and then set them aside. It's natural for teachers to experience insomnia if there are issues going on at school with certain students or other colleagues. An effective way to block the issues from the mind is to write them down with potential solutions and then close the journal up. You will tackle them the next day.

If every teacher got restful sleep regularly, imagine how much smarter our next generation could be. (And how hard it will be for our kids to fall asleep in class!)

This article is cross-posted at Dr. Breus's official blog, The Insomnia Blog.