Topic: College of Sciences and Humanities

September 16, 2008

U.S. teachers are suffering from a lack of sleep so severe that many admit to being impaired in the classroom, says a new study from Ball State University.

Nearly a fourth of teachers say their teaching skills are significantly diminished and half admit to missing work or making errors due to a serious lack of sleep, according to a survey of 109 teachers, administrators and support staff.

"The study confirms the existence of sleep deprivation among teachers and other school personnel with the education of our nation's 53 million children potentially at risk," said researcher Denise Amschler, who conducted the study with James McKenzie. Both are physiology and health science professors at Ball State.

Amschler said America is becoming a sleep-deprived nation, with several recent studies finding that the alarming trend is costing U.S. businesses more than $100 billion annually due to workplace accidents, decreased productivity and absenteeism.

"Sleepy teachers are at a higher risk of providing insufficient supervision and inferior classroom instruction," she said. "They also report more mood swings and are at a higher risk of serious personal health problems."

The study found:

  • About 43 percent slept an average of 6 hours or less each night, which is less than the 7 to 9 hours recommended for healthy functioning.
  • About 64 percent said they felt drowsy during the school day.
  • Half of respondents experienced daytime sleepiness at least three times per week and either missed work or made errors at the workplace at least one day in the previous three months due to a lack of sleep.
  • Only a third of school personnel admitted to getting a good night's sleep most of the time.
  • Female respondents are more prone to suffer sleep disturbances, drowsiness and sleep problems.

Amschler believes school personnel may not be able to get adequate rest because of their long work days, which are often stretched into late nights due to grading papers, preparing teaching plans and participating in after-school activities. Also keeping teachers awake or disturbing their sleep are concerns about students and school-related problems.

The study also found that 44.9 percent of respondents work part-time jobs.

"Many teachers are forced to coach, farm, run a family business or work a second job just to pay the bills," Amschler said. "When you factor in the responsibilities of raising a family, it is easy to see why teachers sleep so little. There is very little time."

Amschler said the study points to the need for schools providing more assistance to reduce teacher stress and workloads through a variety of programs, including the new federally mandated wellness policies for schools.