Illustration by Edpuzzle Staff
Sleep for teachers is crucial. Without it, you’re more irritable, your memory is foggier and the day seems to drag on forever. Sound familiar?
Whenever we talk about sleep and education, it’s almost always to discuss how much sleep students need. The idea of pushing school start times later has been hotly debated for years, but there’s one thing no one’s talking about: just how much sleep do the teachers need?
The short answer: more than what they’re getting. We’re digging in to how much sleep teachers need so you can finally make it a priority for your physical and mental health.
How Much Sleep You Need Based on Your Age
As a general rule, the older you are, the less sleep you need. According to the Mayo Clinic, when we’re born, we need between 14-17 hours of sleep per day.
As far as the rest of the age groups, the breakdown is as follows:
- Preschoolers need from 10-13 hours of sleep.
- Elementary and middle schoolers need from 9-11 hours (more for younger students, less for older ones).
- High schoolers need about 8-10 hours.
- Adults need between 7 and 9 hours.
So, to sum up, the bare minimum for teachers is 7 hours of sleep per night. Are you getting enough?
The Average Amount of Sleep a Teacher Gets
In 2008, two professors from Ball State University conducted a study to get to the bottom of how much sleep teachers are getting.
Their study noted how research in general on teachers’ sleep habits is incredibly limited, especially in the United States.
Head across the pond to Great Britain, however, and a 2005 study showed that the average British teacher got 6 hours of sleep a night. The only professions from the study that slept even less? Politicians and on-call doctors.
For the Ball State Study, the average amount of sleep for teachers per night was 6.7 hours, but a whopping 43% of the teachers surveyed stated they slept less than 6 hours a night.
The data isn’t shocking when you take the study’s other findings into account: 44.9% of the respondents said they worked a part-time job on top of teaching.
Another reason why teachers aren’t getting enough sleep? To prolong the little free time they have. One teacher summed it up, “I stay up late because I don’t want the evening to end.” Can you relate?
The battle for more sleep can feel like an unbeatable one, but by making small, incremental changes, you can start getting the sleep you need to seriously improve the quality of your life.
Figuring Out Your Sleep Schedule
First things first: figure out your bedtime. One sleep coach recommends working backward. Let’s say you have to be at work at 7:30 a.m. and you have a half-hour commute, so your out-the-door time is 7 a.m. If it takes you an hour to get ready in the morning, we’re left with a wake-up time of 6 a.m.
So what time should you go to bed?
If we use the bare minimum of 7 hours of sleep as a basis, that will take you back to 11 p.m. Then, we need to take into account the time it actually takes you to fall asleep.
According to the experts, it takes 10-20 minutes to fall asleep, so let’s walk it back to 10:40 p.m. lights out. (P.S. Apparently if you fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow, you’re not getting enough sleep!)
If you like to read or meditate a little before you fall asleep, you’d need to be in bed by around 10:20 p.m.
So, count your way backward to figure out your ideal bedtime – is it very far off from your actual bedtime?
Ways for Teachers to Get More Sleep
The next step is finding ways to actually get more sleep. Sure, you might already know what you should be doing, but do you know the reasoning behind it? Here are some practices you can pick and choose from that will guarantee more rest for the weary teacher.
Get some exercise during the day. We know, we know … did you laugh out loud when you read this? Fitting exercise into a teaching schedule is a stretch, but try incorporating it into your daily to-dos rather than trying to squeeze in some gym time (although if you can, that’s great!). Need to chat with a fellow teacher or student? Meet to walk around the track if it’s a nice day. Nodding off during your planning period? Keep a yoga mat in the classroom so you can do some spontaneous stretching, crunches or planking to get your blood flowing. Just make sure that whatever you do, you exercise at least 2 hours before bed so your body has enough time to cool down for sleep mode.
Say bye-bye to bright screens before bed. You probably already know that too much screen time right before bed is a no-no, but do you know why? The experts at Harvard Medical School have determined that the blue light present in your smartphone and tablet screens suppresses melatonin, which is a hormone linked to your circadian rhythms, or your body’s natural sleep schedule. And like blue light, bright light also suppresses melatonin. For the best results, you should switch off your devices and bright lights 2 hours before bed (think candlelight or a reading lamp with soft, warm light), but even just disconnecting half an hour before it’s time to get between the sheets will help.
Cut off your coffee intake. If you’re a teacher who can survive without coffee, kudos. We would never dream of telling you to get rid of your coffee altogether, but do make sure you quit the caffeine by around 2 p.m. That includes sodas, teas, energy drinks and chocolate, which all contain caffeine. Even if you’re one of those people who think that caffeine doesn’t affect your ability to fall asleep, try this tip and see how much better quality z’s you get!
Skip the nightcap. “I just need a glass of wine to help me relax so I can fall asleep.” Have you ever said this to yourself? Surprisingly, while having a glass of wine or a nightcap will help you fall asleep faster, it will actually give you a worse night’s sleep overall. Alcohol interrupts your sleep cycle, so even though you may drift off to dreamland quickly, you’ll likely find yourself up tossing and turning later in the night.
Read a book. Do you have a hard time getting to sleep, or are you spending too much time scrolling through Instagram before turning off the light? Sub in a book for your smartphone and your eyelids will be drooping in no time. If you teach at a middle or high school, try grabbing a YA book from the school library for some light reading!
Take a warm bath. Remember when you were little and bathtime was part of your nighttime ritual? There’s nothing more relaxing than a warm bubble bath (bonus points for candles) to get you feeling sleepy.
Use an eyeshade and earplugs. Turn your bed into a sensory deprivation tank. Even ambient light from the street or the moon can keep you from a deep sleep, so try using a silk eyeshade to make sure you’re not woken up by any headlights or streetlamps. If noise is an issue (from the road, noisy pipes, loud neighbors, etc.) pop in some foam earplugs to help you block out any unwanted bumps in the night.
Banish racing thoughts with aromatherapy. Can’t quiet your thoughts before bed? Thinking about those exams you still have to grade or the scary parent-teacher conference you’ve been putting off? Try a little aromatherapy to slow down your thoughts. A little lavender oil has been shown to put you into a calmer emotional state.
Meditate. Slowing down your brain’s revolutions with some mindfulness before bed is a great way to drift off to sleep, but you’ll need some practice if you’ve never meditated before. Try focusing on one thing, like a flickering candle flame, waves or your breath as you inhale and exhale. If you find it too difficult, try a guided meditation app or a sound machine for a little help.
Maintain the same schedule. Yes, even on the weekends! This is crucial for your circadian rhythms. By going to bed at the same time every night, you’ll train your body for sleep. If normal bedtime is 10 p.m. but on the weekends you regularly stay up until 2 a.m., your body won’t be able to recover in time for Sunday night. It’s tough, but try sticking as close as you can to your working bedtime on the weekends, and you’ll wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the week come Monday morning.
Bonus tip: Turn off your alarm clock! If your alarm wakes you up from a deep sleep in the mornings, you’re not getting enough sleep. Your body should actually wake up naturally with no alarm required. Sound impossible? One sleep expert recommends going to bed 15 minutes earlier and seeing if you need your alarm the next morning. If you do, try to go to bed 15 minutes earlier than the previous night until you’re waking up before your alarm goes off.
Didn’t work? You might need to talk to your doctor about doing a sleep study to rule out sleep apnea, a condition that interrupts your sleep cycle and prevents you from getting a restful night’s sleep.
The trick is to figure out the sleep hacks that work for you and incorporate them into your routine. Getting enough sleep will stave off depression, keep your appetite in check and your mind clear, and improve your patience. So switch off your smartphone and hit the sheets!