Sleeping on the job

The temptation for teachers to stay up later to mark, program or prepare is strong. But by putting in those extra hours, are you actually making things better?

Forgetting the instances where things pile up and you just need to put in a night’s work to get through things, if you’re habitually working late into the night or weekend, something’s amiss in your work/life balance, and often it’s sleep that pays the price.

Sleep debt

If you’re habitually getting less than seven to eight hours sleep, you might be owing your body sleep. If you regularly skip a couple of hours sleep a night, you’re subjecting yourself to sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation leads to impairment of judgement, both intellectual and emotional, as well as reduced motor dexterity. Not a great combination of impairments for a teacher in front of students – many of whom might be sleep deprived themselves.

Self perpetuating cycle

Here’s the problem, you stay up late on multiple nights to get a few things extra done, to make it easier on yourself the next day. However you’re then not functioning at 100% the next day, which means you make mistakes or take longer to do things, so you’re likely to be doing more work the following night. And so the cycle continues until you’re sleepless from not getting things done.

I’ll sleep in on the weekend

The solution most people reach for is the Saturday or Sunday sleep in. If you’re suffering sleep deprivation, your body takes that opportunity to perform repairs on your immune system rather than allow REM sleep. In addition, if you stay up late before a sleep in, you’re actually giving yourself jetlag; that is, getting up on Monday morning will be so much worse than normal.

It’s not Mondayitis, it’s tiredness!

So, what can I do?

Make a commitment to sleep. Go to bed earlier – and sleep, don’t read or binge watch on a device.

Take the time to identify what needs to be done, in order of priority. Start with the top of the list, not the easiest on the list.

Set time limits for getting things done – make a game of it with a stopwatch, for example, two minutes per students’ correction, five minutes to find new resources. Prepare sequences of lessons instead of just what you need for the next days. If it’s taking you longer to prepare a single lesson than to teach it, rethink your strategy.

Don’t be a perfectionist with your resources. The students benefit more from you being alert and able to cope with the demands in the moment. They don’t want a sleep deprived zombie with beautifully formatted resources.

Ask colleagues if there is a better way to do things. If you’re spinning your wheels on a task, look for inspiration from experienced colleagues. Short cuts sometimes need signposting.

Don’t assume technology is making things easier – if you can do it better on a piece of paper with a pen, do it that way. Just get it done quickly and with intention. Don’t fiddle away time on formatting.


Some companies are actually running incentive programs to encourage employees to sleep more. The employees volunteer to use an app to record their sleep patterns. There are many sleep monitoring apps, as well as meditation and yoga apps designed to promote sleep. They vary in style and price, but if you need assistance clearing your mind in preparation for sleep, apps on the phone can help.

Don’t forget that boring podcasts are another way to send you to sleep:


A Unified Theory of Trump, The New Yorker, 26 Feb 2016. Timothy Egan looks at Donald Trump’s claim to be a short sleeper:

The Secrets of Sleep, National Geographic, May 2010. DT Max looks at the enduring mysteries of sleep:

The Walking Dead, The New Yorker, 9 July 2016. Maria Konnikova looks at the effects of sleep deprivation:

Radio Lab’s podcast on Sleep, Season 3, episode 2:

Amy Cotton
Professional Officer