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How to Get Better Sleep as a Teacher

A teacher rests peacefully.

No matter what ails you as a teacher, better sleep is likely to help.

For many teachers, a good night's sleep can be harder to come by than a bathroom break during the school day. Knowing how to get better sleep is critical to helping teachers feel more relaxed and energized, but finding the method that works best for you may require some experimenting.

If you are a teacher struggling with how to get better sleep, here are some ideas to try.

Use a Meditation or Relaxation App

When it's time for bed, many teachers struggle to wind down and forget about the school day. Using an app such as Calm or Headspace can help take your mind off of the day's stress—allowing you to relax and focus on the present. These apps offer sleep stories, mindfulness strategies, guided meditations, and other relaxation music or sounds. The best part is that both Calm and Headspace are free for teachers.

Read a Book

Unlike listening to a book or reading on a screen or tablet, reading an actual book before bed offers unique relaxation and sleep benefits. According to University of Minnesota researchers, reading can be preferable to other activities because it works your brain without active physical stimulation. Reading has also been found to reduce stress by 68 percent and is more effective at doing so than drinking tea or listening to music.

Further reading: Why Teachers (and Students) Need Solitude in Their Lives

The type of book you choose before bed matters. For teachers, avoiding professional development or teaching-related books before bed will help keep your mind from wandering back to job stressors or thinking about your school day.

Schedule Worry Time

Have you ever laid in bed worrying about things you didn't get done or need to do the next day? Martin Reed, a certified clinical sleep health educator (CCSH) and the founder of Insomnia Coach, says writing a to-do list and scheduling time to worry can help.

Reed recommends writing down a list of everything you need to do the next day. For teachers, this might include returning a parent call or email, grading papers, completing student behavior tracking forms, or preparing for an IEP or committee meeting.

Writing down your to-do list will keep your mind from feeling like it needs to stay active during the night trying to remember everything.

If your mind is racing due to worry or stress, Reed has two suggestions. First, make a list of your problems and possible solutions. Second, set aside a time during the day for worrying. Then, if you find yourself dwelling on problems at night, Reed says you can remind yourself these worries have already been addressed, and you can plan to think about them again later during your allotted worry time.

Regulate Light Exposure

You've probably noticed that you're more tired after spending a day in the sun. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that exposure to natural sunlight—particularly early in the day—sets your internal clock to feel more awake but will also cause you to feel tired later in the day and fall asleep earlier.

Manipulating your light exposure can help set your circadian rhythm to better control your sleep schedule. As the weather gets nicer, teachers might want to take a quick walk outside during lunch, head out for recess with their class, or stand in the sun for a few minutes before students arrive.

If you have difficulty falling asleep, the CDC recommends keeping light levels dim at least two hours before bed. The same goes for blue light exposure from computers or phone screens. Exposure to blue light before bed can trick your body into thinking it should stay awake, so you will want to limit blue light before you go to sleep.

Create a Sleep Routine

Parents or caregivers know it can be virtually impossible to get a child to sleep without first going through their nightly routine. Regular sleep routines train the body to know when it's time for bed—and they work for adults, too.

Creating your own sleep routine may take some experimenting, but much like children, developing a regular bedtime routine will signal to your mind and body it is time to relax and prepare for sleep.

Life coach Allison Smith suggests planning your evening backward. Start with the time you want to go to bed, and then schedule the amount of time needed to complete all your evening tasks—leaving at least a half-hour before bed to indulge in your nightly routine.

Further reading: 7 Steps to Take If You Want to Be a Healthy Teacher

Whether you choose a warm bath, a cup of tea, reading, or listening to an audiobook, the key is following the same routine each night, including going to bed at the same time.

Exercise at the Right Time for Your Body

When looking for tricks on how to get great sleep, increasing your exercise is a no-brainer—but timing makes a difference.

According to Charlene Gamaldo, M.D., of Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep, getting 30 minutes of exercise during the day will help your sleep that night, but knowing how your body responds to exercise is important. Some people find exercise to be like taking a hot shower that raises their body temperature and wakes them up. Others find when their body temperature cools down, usually 30–90 minutes after exercise, they feel sleepy.

Exercise also raises endorphin levels, which creates brain activity that can keep some people awake. These people should avoid exercise in the evening to ensure the endorphins have time to wash out of the body and the brain has time to wind down before attempting to fall asleep.

Regardless of the strategy you choose, knowing what works for your body and learning how to get great sleep will help teachers feel rested, relaxed, and able to conquer the day.