Two nights ago, I had my first broken night’s sleep in almost two years. I went to bed as normal but woke up at two am with my mind racing. For the next two hours I lay awake, turning over a huge, insurmountable problem in my mind. In the morning, the problem turned out to be nothing but I was short-tempered and lethargic for the entire day.
Sleepless nights used to be the norm for me; my sleep patterns were poor for much of my teaching career. In fact, they only picked up once I’d made the decision to quit my full-time post. Ironically, I then had the time and energy to learn about the science of sleep. I started sleeping better almost immediately.
Whilst my recent restless night was an annoyance, it reminded me that many teachers will be losing sleep again as September approaches. When it happens regularly, sleep deprivation is more than an annoyance.
It affects your blood pressure and risk levels for heart disease and diabetes, cognitive function and memory, mood and tolerance. I could go on. Lack of sleep is no joke.
Some teachers see overwork and sleep deprivation as a badge of honour. For others, it’s simply a reality of the job. They slip into poor sleep patterns because of anxiety over workload, appraisal and accountability. The important thing to realise is that it’s not acceptable and you can take steps to improve your sleep.
As you move towards the start of term, plan how you can aim for better sleep patterns this term. Think about the activities you’ve enjoyed over the summer. How you can prioritise these in your working week? If you’ve been walking the dog with the children each morning, start to do this straight after school. Make the task non-negotiable. Enjoy it and don’t rush it.
Any preparation and marking that you need to do in the evening will take less time if you’ve had some time for yourself first. You’ll be re-energised. Equally you might find an exercise class that you want to join. It’s easier to make these decisions before the term starts and you decide everything is too hectic.
Decide in advance on how much time you want to dedicate on an evening to school work. Make this a non-negotiable too. You should allot a specific amount of time to every task, not allow tasks to fill the available time. Doing this will ensure that you also have enough time for family, friends, hobbies and unwinding before bed.
Re-evaluate your eating habits. My guess is that you’ve eaten well over the summer because you had the time to shop properly, cook properly, and enjoy decent food. Your health is essential and as you get busier it’s important to plan meals. We’ve probably all done this before only to see it go out of the window as the term goes on. That’s tiredness and it’s a downwards spiral.
As well as what you do in the daytime, there are many ways that you can help improve your sleep once bedtime arrives. Read this for more advice on how to deal with sleepless nights.