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Tired Teachers: Looking at Sleep’s Effect on Teachers

Sleep Research
Read Time: 6 minutes
  • Teachers in America commonly experience exhaustion, with a significant percentage reporting feeling tired from the moment they wake up, potentially indicating issues with their work-life balance and overall well-being.
  • Many teachers employ coping mechanisms such as napping during breaks, consuming high amounts of caffeinated beverages, or even falling asleep in their cars, highlighting the impact of sleep deprivation on their ability to perform at work.
  • Despite the common assumption that teachers have ample time off, the survey reveals that a substantial portion of educators feel overworked and burnt out, with more experienced teachers reporting higher levels of burnout, emphasizing the need for systemic changes to support the well-being of educators.

It’s widely recognized that teachers in America are underpaid. Despite the critical role they play in helping to shape the future leaders of the country, the pay gap between teachers and other professions that require similar levels of education is now the largest on record.

More than being underpaid and feeling unappreciated, teachers often admit to feeling overworked. Rather than clocking out and leaving their work behind them, teachers have to take home assignments that need to be graded and make plans for the next day before they can call it a night.

With long hours and low pay, we wanted to find out just how tired teachers in America are. We surveyed over 500 active teachers to find out how many of them feel tired from the moment they wake up, how they cope with their lack of sleep, how many feel burned out, and what they think would help fix the situation. Read on to see what they had to say.

The Early Bird Gets … Exhausted

If you’re constantly waking up feeling tired, your body is trying to tell you that something isn’t right. Feeling exhausted when you get out of bed rather than feeling energized and ready to go can be a sign that your mattress needs to be replaced, or that you’re drinking too much caffeine late in the day.

Seventy-six percent of teachers polled acknowledged feeling exhausted, including 84 percent of high school teachers. When asked to rate the quality of their sleep during the school week, just 22 percent of teachers said it was “good” or “very good.” On the flip side, 48 percent of teachers rated their quality of sleep during the school week as “fair,” while 30 percent described it as either “poor” or “very poor.” Nearly 1 in 3 teachers (31 percent) reported staying awake until 2 a.m. doing work at least once, and those surveyed worked an average of 10 extra hours every week (either before or after school).

Running On Steam

Not getting enough sleep at night isn’t just going to make you feel groggy the next day, it could be impacting several other aspects of your health as well. It’s widely understood that the average adult needs between seven and nine hours of sleep every night, which works to help keep your immune system functioning, and your mind clear. Consistently not getting the recommended amount of sleep can ultimately have a negative impact on your physical and mental well-being.

With so many teachers waking up feeling tired, we asked them how they cope with not getting enough sleep at night. More than 1 in 5 teachers (22 percent) confessed to taking naps during their lunch breaks, while 19 percent had almost fallen asleep during class, and 15 percent had fallen asleep in the break room.

Roughly 1 in 10 teachers have taken a nap in their car because they were too tired to stay awake all day, and 2 in 5 reported drinking four or more cups of caffeinated beverages on an average school day. Among 30 percent of middle school teachers, the daily average number of caffeinated drinks rose to five.

Seventy-four percent of teachers said being tired caused them to feel less patient, followed by less attentive (58 percent) and more aggravated with their students (51 percent). Twenty-three percent even admitted to mixing up or forgetting their students’ names.

No Rest for Educators

You might think summers off and long breaks in the spring and winter make being a teacher a rather relaxing profession. However, 68 percent of teachers polled acknowledged feeling overworked, while 29 percent said they’re stressed or very stressed during the average school week.

Nearly 2 in 3 educators admitted to feeling burned out by their jobs, and it was more common among teachers with more experience under their belts – 70 percent of teachers with between nine and 12 years of experience felt burned out, while 80 percent of teachers with 13 to 19 years in the profession said the same. Compared to 35 percent of teachers who identified feeling just “slightly fatigued,” 30 percent said they feel “somewhat fatigued” when they wake up on a school day. On the other hand, 1 in 5 educators felt “fatigued” the morning of school days, and 1 in 10 teachers felt “very fatigued.”

Learning New Solutions

When it comes to helping teachers feel well-rested, the educators we polled had some solutions.

More than half (over 54 percent) of teachers acknowledged there was a time in the last school year where they had woken up feeling well-rested. So what helps? According to 44 percent of teachers, having fewer classes is the biggest step toward supporting teachers after hours. Less emphasis on testing (42 percent), smaller class sizes (42 percent), and better-behaved students (40 percent) would also have a strong impact on a teacher’s energy and rest.

A Better Sleeping Solution

In light of these findings, Ashley Doyle, staff writer at SleepJunkie had this to say: “Teachers play a crucial role in shaping, developing, and educating young people. In addition to higher levels of stress, many teachers don’t get enough sleep at night. This study shows teachers are waking up tired more often than not and are trying to sneak in naps throughout the workday. They deserve a good night’s rest and a productive workday.

At SleepJunkie, we’re committed to changing the way you think about sleep. With a tireless focus on researching healthy habits under the sheets, we’re focused on encouraging the highest sleep standards. You’ll also find the best mattress reviews and solutions for sleeping better at SleepJunkie.com.

Methodology and Limitations

To gain the data presented in the above study, a survey was run using Prolific. To be included in this study, respondents had to currently be school teachers. A total of 507 teachers were surveyed, with 26 Pre-K teachers, 151 elementary school teachers, 64 middle school teachers, 87 high school teachers, and 179 teaching at the college level.

All data shown in the above study rely on self-report, and there are certain issues that can accompany self-reported data, such as exaggeration and telescoping. To combat these, an attention-check question was given to participants, and only those who passed the attention-check were allowed to be included in the full study.

Fair Use Statement

Do your readers need a lesson in better sleep management? Help school them by sharing this study for any noncommercial use with a link back to this page as a credit to our team of contributors.

Meg Riley Certified Sleep Science Coach

Meg Riley is a Certified Sleep Science Coach and a full-time writer focused on sleep and mattresses. She is currently the Editor-in-Chief of Sleep Junkie.

Meg started to focus on the sleep industry in 2018. Since then, she has written over 70+ articles on sleep hygiene, product reviews, and the newest trends in the mattress and bedding industry.

A non-exhaustive list of some of the topics she has written on: the effectiveness of alarm clocks, how to prevent jet lag, the NREM & REM Sleep Cycle, and causes and treatments of Restless Legs Syndrome.

Meg Riley has her undergraduate degree from Pennsylvania State University where she studied Advertising and Public Relations and wrote articles on the student experience for College Magazine.

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