There’s no doubt about it: teaching is tiring. Between early mornings, late nights, and the nonstop pace of the school day, feeling rested can start to sound like a downright dream.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Dr. Chris Winter, author of The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How to Fix It, joined The Robertson for its latest educator wellbeing event The ABCs of ZZZ: An Educator’s Guide to Sleep. As both son of and husband to lifelong educators, Dr. Winter knows well the unique sleep needs of people who dedicate their lives to kids. Here, check out his top five secrets for a good night’s sleep.
Stick to a schedule. We know, we know. When you’re up before the sun Monday through Friday, it’s tempting to snooze until noon on the weekends. But resisting that temptation will actually lead to better sleep. “When your sleep on Saturday and Sunday looks significantly different than it does during the week, it can cause a lot of problems,” Dr. Winter said. “Try your best to stick to a similar sleep schedule every day.” If your 5 a.m. weekday wakeup call is just too much to bear on days off, that’s okay — but waking up and going to bed within an hour or two of your normal times will help you fall asleep more easily every night.
Keep it moving. Even if you’ve spent the day chasing six-year-olds, it’s important to carve out time to exercise each day (research shows that two and a half hours of exercise a week — just over 20 minutes a day — can lead to better sleep). For teachers with early AM start times, Dr. Winter suggests committing to working out right after school, for the mental benefits as well as the physical ones. “Teaching is one of those things that never ends, that people take home with them,” he explained. Taking time to exercise dailys builds some sacred “you” time into the schedule, creates a bookend to close the school day, and puts you on the path to falling asleep faster and more easily.
Light it up (or down). You’re probably pretty good about sleeping in the dark, and likely even know to avoid blue lights from phones and other devices before bedtime. But the light you’re exposed to during the day is just as important, because it signals to your body that it’s, well, daytime. If your classroom gets natural light, be sure to let it in as much as possible. If it doesn’t, try to expose yourself to light in other ways, like by turning on a lamp at your desk or working outside during a prep period on sunny days. All of this will put your body in a better position to recognize the change that comes with nightfall, and make the internal changes needed in order to get itself get ready for bed.
Set the stage. When you’re preparing for a lesson, you envision everything about it – what it will look like, feel like, sound like, etc. Do the same for your sleep. Make sure your bedroom is as dark, cool, and comfy as can be. A cozily stage setting will help sleep seem like the most appealing option when your body is ready, giving it just the edge it needs to beat out out pushing play on one more episode on Netflix. “For a lot of teachers, late at night is the first time they have a moment to themselves,” Dr. Winter said. “They fall into a trap where they stay up really late to enjoy that time.” Turn down the lights and the temperature, cozy up under the softest blanket you can find, and bedtime will be hard to beat.
Know yourself. Your students aren’t cookie cutter. Neither are you. “Everybody has a unique sleep need,” Dr. Winter said. While most adults need somewhere from seven to eight hours of sleep a night, pay attention to your energy levels to figure out your optimal sleep time. “If you’re super sleepy during the day, you need more sleep,” Dr. Winter said. “If you’re having trouble falling asleep, you may be overshooting. And if you’re able to stay awake and alert during the day, even during boring lectures or car rides or movies you’re watching with your kids, you’re probably getting what you need.”