MSU Denver

It’s Sunday night, and you teach tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. You’ve spent a good part of the afternoon planning tomorrow’s class, but you never did get those papers graded that you hoped to return tomorrow. You glance at the clock and realize you should start getting ready for bed … but what about those papers? You do a quick calculation — if you spend a couple hours grading now and then get up an hour early to finish up, you can still get five hours of sleep. That should be enough, right?  

Take a SIP of this 

If that scenario sounded eerily familiar, you know what it means to make regular withdrawals from what Kerry Ann Rockquemore calls “the bank of sleep.” The problem is that we keep making withdrawals and very seldom make deposits, leading to chronic sleep deprivation. Chronic sleep deprivation causes and makes worse all sorts of symptoms that make good teaching (and life in general) more difficult, such as irritability, trouble concentrating, slower thinking and lack of energy. 

A 2021 study found that nursing faculty members typically do not get enough sleep. This is likely true for faculty members in other disciplines as well. If you’ve recently checked the social media of your faculty colleagues, you’ve likely seen at least one post about sleep deprivation.  

Tricia Hersey, founder of the Nap Ministry, believes that being well-rested is crucial for people of color and those involved in social-justice movements. She goes so far as to say, “Rest is resistance” to oppression and what she calls “grind culture” — the feeling that you have to always be productive.  

What can you do to get more rest?  

  • Recognize that making sleep a priority is not selfish. Just as drinking enough water to be hydrated or eating a balanced diet isn’t selfish, neither is making sure you’re getting enough sleep to function properly.  
  • Stop ignoring your body. Unchecked stress and lack of rest can result in mental and/or physical health strains. (Rockquemore 2022).     
  • Be OK with papers not getting graded as quickly as you may like or showing up to teach with slides that are merely adequate and not stupendous. Your students will benefit enough from you being well-rested that waiting an extra class period for papers to be returned or looking at slides that are not as fancy as ones you may have created in a previous semester will not negatively impact them.
  • Give yourself an actual bedtime, or at least a time you put your work computer away. Bedtime routines are just as important for adults as for children. 
  • Model a think-aloud with students about when to rest versus work. Sharing your decision-making and prioritizing processes can be teaching tools too. 
  • Consider consolidating or even canceling assignments to give yourself and your students more breathing room. We often pack more into a course than is necessary, in terms of content and assignments. If students have already demonstrated competence with a particular outcome or skill, perhaps that outcome or skill does not need to be assessed again. (In case some students have worked ahead, you could offer extra credit to folks who submit a canceled assignment.)  
  • Keep a list of creative ways to have students take on some responsibility for teaching when you feel unprepared. Group activities, such as jigsaws or having students create mind maps on the board to connect concepts, relieve you of having to do all the work and are fantastic teaching/learning strategies to boot.

Still thirsty? Take another SIP.