A Good Night’s Sleep: Helping Fight the Stresses of Teaching

It’s late and you can’t sleep...you’re fretting over failing students, looming achievement tests, and how you’re going to find time for your next lesson plan. You toss and turn and before you know it, the alarm has gone and sleep has once more eluded you.

Insomnia and disrupted sleep are typical signs of stress and burnout and with teaching listed as the fourth most stressful job in America, it’s no wonder that poor sleep affects many in the profession.

The distressing facts about stress

Whilst we are all aware of the pressures and demands associated with teaching, the evidence for stress is far more than just anecdotal. In 2015, the American Federation of Teachers conducted a survey into the wellbeing and working conditions of over 3,000 teachers; the overall majority of respondents experienced high levels of stress. Among the findings, 78 percent said they are often physically and emotionally exhausted at the end of the day, and 87 percent said the demands of their job at least sometimes interfere with family life. When stress is carried from work into the home, it can typically affect the way we behave, eat and sleep.

Lack of sleep means lack of performance

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that healthy adults have 7-8 hours of sleep each night; anything significantly less will reduce our performance levels in the workplace. Persistent lack of sleep can lead to a general lethargy, lack of focus and increased irritability, all of which will impact on engagement with pupils. Furthermore, lack of sleep can cause increased levels of stress, anxiety and feelings of frustration. This is particularly bad news for those already suffering from stress associated with teacher burn-out.

Say goodnight to insomnia

So how can we rescue ourselves from these spiralling stresses? There are a number of possible ways to help encourage sleep. Dietary and herbal supplements, such as melatonin and valerian, are believed to be effective remedies. And prescription sleep medications can provide temporary relief, but are by no means a long-term solution. It’s a good idea to get into positive, healthy sleep practices. For example, relax your mind and body before bed by reading, taking a warm bath or doing gentle yoga. Ensure your bedroom is quiet, dark and cool, and that your bedding is comfortable. If you find you can’t sleep, get out of bed and do something relaxing that will entice you into a sleepy state. Invest in or make a weighted blanket: a recognized means to aid sleep in those suffering from anxiety. The blanket creates a deep pressure that simulates the sensation of being held - a calming effect that has been shown to persist after sleep. And during the day, take regular exercise. This is a highly effective way to relieve tension and anxiety whilst at the same time tire the body so that sleep comes more easily at bedtime. There’s no doubt that it’s difficult to escape the stresses associated with teaching. But ensuring a good night’s sleep can help put to bed some of that anxiety, or at the very least help build strength and stamina to cope with the daily pressures and demands of the job.