How Much Sleep Do Teachers Really Need?
Danny Singh, born and raised in London, but now based in Rome and Canterbury, gives creative English language lessons and teacher training courses all over Europe. He also offers stimulating monthly presentations on language related issues at Rome’s biggest international bookshop and has his own YouTube channel which contains a series of interactive English video lessons. He is author of two books, “I was a happy man...then one day I came across Laughter Yoga” and “Learning English through the mind and the body” and is currently working on his third book, “Life is full of surprises”. He regularly attended Pilgrims TT summer courses as a Guest Speaker. Email: email@example.com
www.laughnlearn.net , www.youtube.com/channel/UCA2CFTD27Yw6Lf7kOW0PbOQ/videos
This article was previously published in the Summer 2023 issue of IN mag (the Slovenian IATEFL mag).
My first Sunday morning experience
Despite having attended the last ten consecutive IATEFL Slovenia conferences, I had never before been invited to give a Sunday morning talk. This did not appear to be an ideal time to give a talk, at least not if I wanted to have other people in the same room. Many people would already have left by then, others would be preparing to leave, hastily clearing their rooms, trying to fit everything into their cases, queuing for what seemed like an eternity to check out and pay for their rooms, others would be socialising, saying their last goodbyes, hugging old and new friends and colleagues. Only those who were a glutton for punishment would come, those who never knew when enough was enough, those who had a resilience that went far beyond the four days allowed for this conference. I myself was sleepy, as I often am in the morning, especially when forced to get up early and give a talk. Nonetheless, there was a strong sense of positivity, especially as my pub quiz team had somehow arrived in 2nd place the night before, despite the presence of several strong looking teams in the room. I felt that this was an even greater achievement than the victory back in 2014, where our team had been full of superstar galacticos, like the Real Madrid football team. Instead, this team was a kind of Real Sociedad or Villareal, humble, hardworking, determined and proud of its roots.
When coffee becomes educational
I first became interested in this topic when I accidently came across a book while having a coffee in a well-known bookshop in Canterbury in the UK. As I knew from my own personal experience that sleeping more had helped me overcome feelings of flu, light colds, headaches and other illnesses, I had expected to find a few additional benefits from sleeping more, instead of which I discovered a plethora of serious threats and damage to your health that could be caused by failing to sleep the required amount of hours. After this initial shock, I found other books on the subject and realised that this was becoming quite a fashionable theme. Most of the writers and contributors are neuroscientists, which means they have done some sort of research and are not just speaking from the top of their heads, however, like most scientists, they often tend to classify everything into boxes, black and white, forgetting the humanistic aspect of these tests, which is that every single person is different, hence the results of their tests will vary from person to person. Just to give a couple of random examples, all the experts say that both drinking coffee and doing exercises late in the evening can seriously reduce your ability to sleep, however, I often take a short sharp espresso late in the evening and almost always do some yoga, stretching and breathing exercises before bed, yet I rarely have any difficulty going to sleep.
How lack of sleep can seriously damage your health
The first important question on this subject is how many hours a night you sleep. That’s how I opened up the session and as expected there was a wide range of answers, from five up to nine hours. The experts may not always agree on everything, but one thing that they definitely agree on is the ideal number of hours needed which is seven to nine. Anything more than that and you are oversleeping and damaging your body, but anything less than that and you really are in some danger. As many teachers do not sleep more than five or six hours during the week, the risks are real.
The main benefit of sleep is that it basically refreshes us, recharges our batteries and cleans out many of the bad toxins that we carry. It also sorts out all the input that we have received during our waking hours and refines the memory. A lack of sleep means that these procedures are not carried out properly and the first effect is memory loss. An Alzheimer related protein builds up which can lead to dementia. Linked to this is the mental and physical deterioration of the brain, ultimately leading to permanent brain damage.
Lack of sleep also affects our virility and therefore ability to reproduce, even in twenty-year olds. Our immune system is weakened, which leaves us open to catching a range of diseases, one of which is cancer. Indeed, nightshift work has officially been declared as carcinogenic by the international agency for research into cancer (IARC).
All of the above effects are bad enough, but the biggest shock (at least for me) was still to come. Sleep acts as a kind of medication, like a reboot of the system and if you don’t get enough, in other words, if you sleep less than seven hours a night, you have a 200% higher risk of a heart attack or stroke. Sleep helps to lower blood pressure, as it has a calming effect on your system, so skipping a few hours here and there really can increase the risk of doing some damage.
Daylight saving time
Twice a year in Europe, we change our clocks. In Spring, clocks go forward by one hour, which means that we initially get one hour less sleep and that the days suddenly seem to last much longer, while being slightly darker in the mornings. In Autumn, the reverse happens, we get an extra hour to lie in on what is usually a cold chilly morning, the mornings seem a little brighter, but then darkness seems to arrive in the middle of the day. This change in time affects our rhythm, at least at the beginning, but like everything else, we get used to it until the next change. It affects our sleeping patterns, in some cases we are constantly yawning, in others we have more difficulty falling asleep at night, but these are small issues compared to the real health issue.
According to studies done in the UK since 2014, during the week that follows clocks going forward in the spring resulting in the loss of an hour’s sleep, there is a 24% increase in heart attacks, while in the Autumn, there is a reverse trend with a reduction of 21% in cardiovascular diseases. Traffic accidents increase or decrease as do other incidents, all linked to tiredness and lack of concentration caused by lack of sleep, blood pressure changes according to the reduced or extra sleep and so on. With this in mind, the question here is whether the benefits of moving clocks forward and backward twice a year outweigh those of the damage to health and increase in deaths caused by these very changes.
How can we sleep better?
The arguments that have been put forward so far have come primarily from Matthew Walker and his book, “Why we Sleep”. His conclusion is that if you don’t sleep those seven to nine hours a night, you are doomed. However, Arianna Huffington, who has written “The Sleep Revolution” says that if we are unable to get our quota of sleep at night, as will happen from time to time during busy work periods, deadlines that need to be met etc, we can try to recoup our energy by using power naps. These are short twenty minute naps, that you have at regular intervals during the day. Just the effect of closing your eyes for twenty minutes is a benefit, even if you don’t actually manage to doze off and when you do wake up, you won’t be feeling totally groggy as often happens when you have a real one-hour nap in the middle of the day.
Dr. Jen Hunter meanwhile, asks the question, “Do we really need to sleep eight hours?” Her idea is that if we become too obsessed with this phenomenon, we’ll do ourselves more harm than good. If our blood pressure is at a decent level and our general health is good and we find that six hours appears to be enough for us, then that’s fine, we shouldn’t force ourselves to sleep that extra hour just because it’s deemed as not being sufficient.
In relation to sleeping better, there are several things that can be done to produce a better quality of sleep. Firstly, light is fundamental, reduce strong lights as the evening goes on, keep away from phones and other digital equipment in the last hour before you go to bed so that your mind can relax, have relaxing music on in the background, maybe have a warm soothing drink, such as a camomile tea or hot water with honey and lemon and before going under the sheets, try some gentle stretching exercises to smoothen the back, some breathing to calm yourself down and some meditation to focus your mind and empty those chaotic thoughts before you hit the sack. Sleeping improves and maintains our skin, we often talk about needing our beauty sleep. As for dealing with daily problems, the best solution is often to sleep on it, that is, go to bed and the natural medication that occurs will help you to find the solution once you’ve woken up. That’s how I solve most of my problems, go to bed and sleep on it, what seems to be an insurmountable problem, then when I wake up, I either have the solution or discover that there never really was a problem.
Sleep has often been regarded as something which gets in the way of our normal active life, however, it is now clear that sleep is as important to our health as is regular exercise, drinking water and the quality and quantity of food that we consume, so however much you sleep, makes sure it’s enough for your needs.
Gunter, J. (2022). Do you really need 8 hours of sleep every night?
Huffington, A. (2016). The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time. New York: Harmony Books.
Walker, M. (2017). Why We Sleep: The new science of sleep and dreams.
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