Our Secret Weapon

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Did you get a good night’s sleep?

In his outstanding book School Blues, Daniel Pennac says,

The teacher’s key skill is sleep. The good teacher goes to bed early.

In an ideal world, an early night would be bliss but teacher homework and ‘life stuff’ make this almost laughable. But Daniel is right about sleep – we can’t function properly without it. Sleep is our secret weapon.

I haven’t met one teacher yet who says they ever get a decent night’s sleep ‘on a school night’ and weekends aren’t much better either. Bank Holiday weekends you might get one good night if you are lucky. There’s always too much to do and if you don’t get things done then you feel guilty. Tired teachers aren’t effective teachers but fragile and vulnerable.

As Daniel says, teaching is

A domain in which fatigue and a bad conscience are poor advisers.

Chronic sleep deprivation seems to go with the job. You might lay tossing and turning checking the clock every hour until around 5am and just when start to drop off it’s time to get up. Getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night is just for dreamers.

As teacher’s we are tortured souls with busy minds and no off button so how can we switch off?

Not A Wink Of Sleep

We all know that getting little or no sleep is bad news. It messes with our mood, blurs our focus, blunts our responses and spreads grit over our thinking. Sleep deprived teachers can end up making some dubious decisions along with jumpy and jaded judgments. The last thing we want to hear is that it leads to more stress and a greater risk of heart disease and diabetes. Inadequate or mistimed sleep is dangerous and threatens our health and wellbeing.

The sheer power and value of a good night’s sleep can’t be ignored. Performance, effectiveness, competence and basic functions all benefit from quality slumber.

10 Sleep Hygiene Tips

1. Cut the caffeine

Health professionals tell us that drinking coffee 6 hours before bedtime is a no no because it is a stimulant and diuretic. So if you don’t want to be ‘wired’ and up all night visiting the loo try a hot milky drink or a herbal tea instead and not two minutes before light’s out!

2. Ban the booze

Consumption of alcohol on a school night – outrageous! Everything in moderation, we know that, but try and avoid alcohol just before bedtime. It might help you nod off but you’ll soon be awake again and ‘paying a call’.

3. Get some exercise

Moderate amounts of exercise are sufficient to improve sleep quality. You don’t need to belong to an expensive gym – a brisk walk is good enough and it will relieve the day’s stresses and strains.

4. Tidy up

If your bedroom is a tip then don’t expect a good night. A tidy environment has been proven to aid better sleep. If you are a hoarder, dump your stuff elsewhere.

5. Invest in the best

We might spend thousands on new cars, clothes and technology but do we buy the best mattress we can afford? Get a good one because you spend a lot of time together.

6. No technology

If you take your phone to bed with you then make it sleep in another room. You don’t need it anywhere near your pillow. This goes for laptops too. Do you really need a TV in your bedroom? Definitely unplug yourself from social media after the watershed.

7. No swimming

When your head is swimming in thoughts and worries, all that splashing makes for a choppy night. Make a list of what you need to do, try and offload, prioritise and aim for a millpond.

8. Make a date

Find your optimal bedtime and try and fix a time when you go to bed so that it isn’t different every night. Aim for a routine that enables your body to wind down and relax.

9. Put that light out!

Some people can’t sleep without a light but light can delay the production of melatonin. Sleeping in darkness is good for the body so if you haven’ tried blackout curtains before give them a go and see the difference.

10. Temperature

If your bedroom is too hot or too cold then this is going to throw a spanner in the works. Fresh air is important for good sleep quality. Ideally, a bedroom should be a temperature of around 18°C (65°F) and about 65% humidity.

Sleep Like A Log

Making you bedroom an oasis of calm might be impossible if you live near a busy main road, your neighbour’s dog is barking and you are sat in bed marking with a glass of wine and tube of Pringles but try and give yourself a fighting chance and follow at least some of the sleep hygiene tips. Personally, I’ve always found ear-plugs do the trick.

They say that we spend 1/3 of our lives sleeping. Not if you are an irritable teacher with restless leg syndrome and permanent jet-lag you don’t. If we all got more sleep then we’d all be better teachers.

One thing that would definitely help exhausted educators get more rest, is cutting down the workload and taking the fear out of the job so that teachers can enjoy what should be, the best career in the world.

Try and get an early night if you can.

John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project manager, writer and editor. I am the teacher without a tongue. www.johndabell.com

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