Dr. Judy's November/December 2014 Newsletter
When Class Is Dismissed The Brain Works Overtime
Greetings Fellow Educators,
Teachers’ working hours go far beyond the 8am to 3pm schedule of their students. There are hours spent at faculty meetings, correcting homework, preparing for the next day - and then there is the worrying. Nothing I ever did in a hospital emergency room or doing CPR required the intense mental energy needed to keep 30 kids attentive enough to learn what I was teaching.
Good teachers are like jugglers keeping a dozen balls in the air so come nighttime, with alarm set for 6 a.m. to finish grading papers, memories of the day that’s gone – including the students that didn’t understand something, forgot their lunch or were embarrassed by wrong answers – become sleep resistant barriers. Add to these the financial stress, about potential loss of income from spending cuts and job losses, and you have cycle of insomnia and, with it, a band of additional consequences.
The High Cost of Sleep Lost
With inadequate sleep comes irritability, forgetfulness, lower tolerance of even minor annoyances, and less efficient organization and planning. These are the very mental muscles teachers need to meet the challenges of the next day. In wanting to do a better job the next day, the brain keeps bringing up the worries that deny it the rest it needs to do that job.
Studies of teachers’ response to high job strain reveal they spend more time ruminating about work-related issues and their brains take longer to unwind. Sleep hours suffers as well as sleep quality.
We need sleep to think clearly, react quickly, and create memories. It is during the later hours of sleep (especially between the sixth and eighth hour) when the brain releases the neurochemicals that stimulate the growth of the memory connections. The average teacher is reported to sleep six hours a night, falling short of the most valuable sleep time.
It is also during sleep that the brain has some its most profound insights and does some of its most creative problem solving. During the day, the neural networks for highest cognition are kept busy directing the rest of the brain’s moment-to-moment decisions, choices, prioritizing, and just getting through the day. At night, these executive control circuits are free from those distractions. As seen on brain imaging, these regions can be extremely active during sleep. After such brain activity, the subjects often awaken with solutions to problems, new insights, and ideas for creative innovation.
Sleep Tight Tips When You’re Out of Pixie Dust
Increasing sleep time from six hours or less to eight hours promotes the growth of the brain connections that increase memory up to 25% and restore emotional calm, alert reflectiveness, and job efficiency. Here are some general and teacher-specific tips.
The best “sleep hygiene” includes regular sleep and wake schedules – even on weekends. Exercise is also good, but avoid vigorous exercise in the two hours before bed sleep.
Vigorous exercise releases adrenalin and noradrenalin, both stimulants that could delay falling asleep. Vigorous exercise before bed also means it will take longer for your body to cool down to the lower temperature that promotes sleep. It is, however, great listen!to!calming!music and do gentle stretching, yoga, and progressive!muscle!relaxation!(going!through!each!muscle! group!and!tensing!and!relaxing!it)!before getting into your cozy bed.
Thinking about what you eat and drink before bed also has an impact. You may think you are avoiding caffeine, but look carefully at teas, soft drinks, cold and headache medications where caffeine may be hiding. Alcohol near bedtime might help you fall asleep, but when it wears off, you’ll awaken in the middle of the night and have trouble falling back to sleep. Finally, the environment in which you sleep should be cooler as this is more sleep conducive.
And For All a Good Night
For teachers, bedtime rituals can clear your brain of that ruminating about work-related issues so why not have a warm bath with relaxing music before you go to bed. It’s important to leave worries aside – literally – so try writing them down so you won’t be concerned that you’ll forget them.
If some worries do wedge themselves into your sleep cycle and awaken you, expel them by writing them down on that external brain notecard. Most importantly, let your last thoughts include self-recognition for the critically vital work you do and drift to dreamland recalling the day’s school successes and the faces to which you brought smiles.
Judy Willis, M.D., M.Ed.