Try this experiment--ask a group of people how much sleep the average person should get per night. Most will say somewhere in the ballpark of eight hours. Then, ask the same group of people if any believe they themselves need fewer than eight hours of sleep. Many, if not most, will raise their hands.
This is the sleep delusion. The individual believes he or she needs less than eight hours of sleep per night even while knowing that the vast majority of people need that amount. Statistically, this is impossible; each of us cannot be the exception to the rule. The sleep delusion allows many of us to justify getting less than the amount of sleep we need. Sure, we think, most people need eight hours but I can do just fine on six or seven. As a result, we perform worse as professionals, spouses, parents, and friends.
The research on sleep is overwhelming. The health benefits of sleep are numerous, as are the negative effects of sleep deprivation. About 3% of us do have a gene that means we need fewer than eight hours of sleep. The rest of us, the other 97%, who are not getting eight hours and believing we do not need it, are just deluded.
Teachers, the sleep delusion is perhaps most insidious in our profession. Our work is infinite so there is a constant temptation to work just a little bit longer and get just a little bit less sleep. In many schools, there is an adult culture that celebrates working long hours and sacrificing self-care in the name of getting things done for students. Getting eight or more hours of sleep is considered unrealistic or, worse yet, soft.
This is tragic and ironic because, of all professionals, teachers have perhaps the greatest need to be at their best at work. They spend most of the day interacting with students, many of whom have serious academic deficits and social-emotional problems. The idea of working with students while sleep-deprived makes no sense, yet many of us do it routinely. Our students deserve better.
What can be done about it? Here are a few places to start:
Have you fallen victim to the sleep delusion? Have your colleagues at school? Let’s speak the truth about how much sleep we are getting and how much sleep we need. Our teachers deserve to get enough sleep to feel well each day. Our students deserve teachers who get enough sleep to teach well.