From education to employment

Top 5 tips: Why teachers need to reset weekday sleeping habits

Hannah Waters, Writer

Research shows that, in Britain, 70% of adults sleep below the recommended amount of seven to eight hours, losing an average of 41 minutes of sleep every week night.

With the national average for teachers being just six hours per night, they account for a large proportion of those falling short of the necessary amount of sleep.

Though the school hours may be 8am-3pm, staff meetings, marking, preparing lessons and the responsibility that comes with a high-pressure job often puts sleep as a lower priority.

When the weekend arrives, the average person is five hours behind what the body needs to function, causing people to oversleep to ‘pay back’ the sleep debt that is owed.

The issue with this is that sleep debt can’t be repaid in the way people think it can – a weekday deficit can’t be made up for on the weekend, which means teachers especially are in danger of suffering from the short-term (and eventually the long term) issues of sleep deprivation.

This can include anything from cognitive function to chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.

A recent campaign carried out by retailer Furniture Village suggests ways we can reclaim the rather shocking 2 years that can be lost to ‘sleep debt’ throughout our lives.

The key is to reset attitudes to sleep through the week rather than oversleeping at the weekend, it’s in fact doing us no good and not helping combat that sleep deprivation during the week.

Here are 5 tips on how to reclaim your weekday sleep and be at your best for a day in the classroom:

1. Cut down on coffee

With a typically early wake up time and intense days, teachers are known for staying alert and caffeinated with coffee.

Caffeine can stay in your blood for over seven hours after you consume it – so ensure you cut out caffeine no later than 2pm if you want to be sure it won’t interfere with your sleep.

2. Master the mid-morning snack

When it gets to ‘break time’ or mid-morning, many look for their first snack to keep their energy levels going.

Instead of another cup of coffee, go for an organic green tea, which according to experts has a small amount of caffeine as well as a calming amino acid, giving the metabolism a gentle morning boost with a healthy dose of anti-oxidants.

If you want a snack that will give you some energy, consider a handful of nuts or a piece of fruit. This is in place of a high sugar or carbohydrate diet linked to blood sugar imbalances which, in turn can affect our circadian hormones and quality of sleep.

3. Wrap up the post-work beverage early

After a stressful day, it can be tempting to head out for a couple of drinks, whether that’s with colleagues in a bar, or simply at home. But alcohol, like coffee, is a stimulant and therefore can be pretty unhelpful for sleep.

With that in mind, if you are having an alcoholic beverage, 7pm is the best time to cut it off. It takes an hour to break down a unit of alcohol and even a small amount in your system can affect your sleep noticeably.

4. Block out the blue light

Whether it’s responding to emails, lesson planning or just having a bit of time to yourself after a long day, try not to take your phone, tablet or laptop into the bedroom.

When it’s time for sleep the body produces less serotonin and more melatonin, but the blue light of screens will disrupt this – so be sure to turn off your digital devices 2-3 hours before bed.

5. An optimal bedtime

This should be simple but with so much to do, it can be hard to stay strict with a set time for bed. For a person that wakes up at 7:35am, the optimum bedtime should be 11:15pm.

And with teachers, professors and lecturers rarely having the luxury of this later wake up time, this suggests that they should be tucking themselves into bed even earlier.

The teaching profession is stressful, and as such, demands a lot of time, energy and hard work. But with so much dogged effort and determination required, the quality of your sleep plays a significant part in your performance.

Getting the recommended 7-8 hours is an investment in your work, allowing you focus, concentrate and deliver your classes to the best of your abilities. So, where you can, try to make every effort to switch off properly and wind down towards a good night’s sleep after work.

Sure, that third glass of vino at 9pm may feel like a necessity at the time, but we’re willing to bet your foggy 6am brain might just disagree.

Hannah Waters, part-time woman of letters and full-time feminist.

Hannah lives and works in London, where she is cutting her journalistic teeth in her first media role. She spends her spare time covering interests including women in business, productivity and self-care.

Furniture Village have created a useful calculator allowing you to work out your own personal ‘sleep debt’, alongside expert advice on how to address the situation. 

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