Good teachers are like jugglers keeping dozens of plates spinning every day. To do this they end up going to bed late, rising early and worrying in between about all sorts of things from marking, planning, assessments, Ofsted inspections, exams, etc.
All these things floating around in your head can become barriers to sleep and on average teachers get just six hours sleep a night.
With inadequate sleep comes irritability, forgetfulness, lower tolerance of even minor annoyances, less efficient organisation and planning…even depression.
Studies have revealed that teachers spend on average more time than most people ruminating about work-related issues and their brains take longer to unwind. Yet more than anyone teachers need sleep to help her face the new day with renewed vigour.
We need quality, deep sleep to wake refreshed. It is during the later hours of sleep – especially between the sixth and eighth hour – when the brain releases the neurochemicals that stimulate the growth of the memory connections.
It is also during this deep sleep that the brain has some of its most profound insights and does some of its most creative problem solving. During the day, the neural networks are kept busy directing the rest of the brain’s moment-to-moment decisions and just getting through the day. At night, these executive control circuits are free from distractions and as seen on brain imaging, key regions of the brain can be extremely active during sleep.
After such brain activity, you will often awaken with solutions to problems, new insights, and ideas for creative innovation. Increasing sleep time from six hours or less to eight hours promotes the growth of the brain connections that increase memory up to 25% and restore emotional calm, alert reflectiveness and job efficiency
So how do you get a much needed, good nights sleep? Here are a few tips:
Schedule and exercise
Try to keep regular sleep and wake schedules – even on weekends.
Exercises are also good, but avoid vigorous exercise in the two hours before bed. Vigorous exercise releases adrenalin and noradrenalin, both stimulants that could delay falling asleep. Vigorous exercise before bed also means it will take longer for your body to cool down to the lower temperature that promotes sleep.
That said, gentle stretching, yoga, and progressive muscle relaxation (going through each muscle group and tensing and relaxing it) is great.
Preparing for sleep
Think about what you eat and drink before bed. You may think you are avoiding caffeine, but look carefully at teas, soft drinks, cold and headache medications where caffeine may be hiding. Alcohol near bedtime might help you fall asleep, but when it wears off, you’ll wake up in the middle of the night and have trouble falling back to sleep. In the normal cycle, deeper REM sleep does not come until several hours in. Alcohol before bed results in early onset REM thus helps with falling asleep. However, after several hours, the early REM is followed by sleep fragmentation – frequent awakenings. One lies in bed awake and come morning does not feel refreshed.
The environment in which you sleep should also be cooler as this is more sleep conducive. Eliminate noise and make sure you have a comfortable bed!
Try deep breathing. Close your eyes, and try taking deep, slow breaths, making each breath even deeper than the last.
Try progressive muscle relaxation. Starting with your toes, tense all the muscles as tightly as you can, then completely relax. Work your way up from your feet to the top of your head.
Try visualizing a peaceful, restful place. Close your eyes and imagine a place or activity that is calming and peaceful for you. Concentrate on how relaxed this place or activity makes you feel.
Pre-bed time rituals
For teachers, bedtime rituals can clear your brain of that ruminating about work-related issues so why not have a warm bath with relaxing music before you go to bed?
Clear your mind of worries
If worries or things to do have wedged themselves into your brain, try to write them down on an external notecard to alleviate the potential stress it may cause. Most importantly, let your last thoughts include self-recognition for the vital work you do and drift to sleep recalling the day’s school successes.
If you need to make up for a few lost hours, opt for a daytime nap rather than sleeping late. This strategy allows you to pay off your sleep debt without disturbing your natural sleep-wake rhythm, which often backfires in insomnia and throws you off for days. If insomnia is a problem for you, consider eliminating napping. If you must nap, do it in the early afternoon, and limit it to thirty minutes.
Avoid TV, computers and mobile phones
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone controlled by light exposure that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin production is controlled by light exposure. Your brain should secrete more in the evening, when it’s dark, to make you sleepy, and less during the day when it’s light and you want to stay awake and alert. However, many aspects of modern life can disrupt your body’s natural production of melatonin and with it your sleep-wake cycle.
Avoid bright lights at night—especially from hours spent in front of the TV or computer screen—as these can suppress your body’s production of melatonin and make it harder to sleep.
Hopefully you can now get a good night sleep so you can be productive, mentally sharp, emotionally balanced, and full of energy all day long.
If you are still troubled by sleepless nights, perhaps considered seeing your GP?