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Overworked Educators: How the Lack of Sleep Is Affecting Your Teaching

This article was written by Sarah Cummings - a freelance writer and regular contributor at The Sleep Advisor.
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What could be worse than trying to educate a room of disinterested children or hormonally charged teenagers? Doing it on less than six hours of sleep, maybe. Yikes!

Yet, that’s exactly what 4 out of 10 teachers in America are doing, according to a study by Ball State University. The same study also found that over half of all teachers admitted they make mistakes at work on a daily basis, due to lack of sleep.

Sleep is important no matter what profession you're in. But when it comes to a job such as teaching that requires you to be ‘on your feet’ at all times (both literally and figuratively), the importance of getting enough sleep is even more pronounced.

Researcher Denise Amschler, who conducted the Ball State study, believes that:

"Sleepy teachers are at a higher risk of providing insufficient supervision and inferior classroom instruction.”

 

She's probably right. Here are a few ways sleep deprivation can impact a teacher’s ability to teach.

1. Forgetfulness

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School in theory is all about learning, it’s all about expanding the minds of the next generation. It’s a little ironic then that a lot of the individuals tasked with delivering this mind expansion are operating at reduced brain power themselves.

Neuroscience is fairly clear on the link between poor sleep and cognitive performance. The less sleep you get, the slower your brain works. Synapses fire less quickly, and as a result, information moves more sluggishly.

This lack of mental processing power has wide-ranged implications on a number of areas of performance, essential for being a good educator, such as focus, decision making, memory, and accuracy.

Let's take memory for instance. Poor sleep impacts both our long and short-term memory. It’s hard to pass on information to a class if you can’t remember your own name. Struggling to remember the names of the founding fathers during a history lesson is unlikely to induce any students with a passion for learning.

2. Moodiness

moodiness gif_Bored Teachers

While we sleep, a host of important processes takes place, including the regulation of stress hormones and neurotransmitters. If our sleep is constantly broken, so too are these processes. Over time, the impact leads to imbalances and an inability to properly regulate our emotions.

The result is increased moodiness, higher levels of stress, and anxiety. It has been stated that insomniacs are a whopping 20 times more likely to suffer from an anxiety-related condition than their well-rested amigos. If there is one thing teachers don’t need, it's more stress!

So unless you don’t want to be remembered forever by your students as Mr. or Mrs. Grumpy, it might be time to start catching a few more Zs at night.

3. Empathy

empathy gif_Bored Teachers

Teaching is unlike any other job. As an educator, you're responsible not only for bestowing wisdom, but also for the wellbeing of the adolescents currently under your care. Many of whom will look up to you as a role model.

Think back to your favorite teacher from your own school life, chances are they were someone you felt understood what it was like to be your age. That’s because good teachers are able to empathize with their students. Unfortunately, tired teachers aren't very empathetic teachers.

There is a good reason for this. Sleep deprivation reduces the brain’s capacity for a host of functions revolving around social interactions. For instance, studies have shown that a tired brain is less able to discern facial cues, meaning it's less able to respond correctly to the emotions of others.

Teachers have a tough time, long hours at the board are often followed by long hours behind a mountain of paperwork, something few parents or commenters take into account. Add to this the pressures of family life and the desire to maintain a social life, and it's no wonder sleep is often the thing that is sacrificed.

The missed hours in bed, however, can and do have a big impact on how well teachers perform at their job. Being a good educator means being present, both intellectually and emotionally, and unfortunately, a tired brain can’t do either very well.  

So get some rest teachers, your students' future depends upon it!

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