Getting Sleepy

By Anthony Rebora — September 23, 2008 2 min read

Here’s a new angle on the teacher-quality issue: According to a study by researchers at Ball State University, many teachers may not be getting enough sleep at night to be fully effective in the classroom.

Some 43 percent of teachers surveyed said they slept an average of six hours or less per night, according to the study, while half admitted to missing work or making errors due to a “serious lack of sleep.” Nearly one-fourth said their teaching skills are “significantly diminished” due to lack of sleep.

The study, which is currently under review by the Journal of School Health, examined the survey responses of 109 teachers in one Indiana district. It is considered “preliminary and descriptive,” said Denise Amschler, a professor of physiology and health sciences and co-author of the study.

While the study doesn’t correlate teachers’ reported sleep problems with instructional quality or student performance, the researchers speculated that the potential effects on schools could be significant, based on what is known about job performance and lack of sleep.

“Sleepy teachers are at higher risk of providing insufficient supervision and inferior classroom instruction,” Amschler said in a press release.

Job-Related Stress

In a phone interview, Amschler noted that, based on her own and previous research, it appears teachers get less sleep than many other professional groups. In general, she said, about one-third of adults are reported to get an average of six or fewer hours of sleep per night.

Amschler believes that teachers’ sleep problems likely derive from the unique stresses of the job, including non-fixed hours, continuous grading and planning responsibilities, and concerns about students.

The study also notes that nearly 45 percent of the respondents said they also work part-time jobs in addition to teaching.

Amschler said that teachers with sleep issues tend to fall into two categories: 1) those who are overcommitted with work and family obligations and don’t get to bed until after midnight; and 2) those who go to bed at a reasonable time but can’t fall asleep because of worry or stress about school.

In an “open-ended” section of the survey, she said, many teachers acknowledged that they were concerned about the effects of sleep deprivation on their job performance.

Asked about recommendations for addressing the problem, Amschler said she’d like to see schools include teachers’ sleep needs in wellness policies.

“Teachers tend to suffer in silence,” she noted. “They need to know that there’s no shame in getting enough sleep.”