The Need for Sleep

Sleep. Often underrated and often the lack of it is used as a badge of honour for the amount of work people do.

When I used to teach, girls boast to me that they had stayed up all night completing their coursework, they wanted recognition for their effort and felt proud that they had given up the one vital thing needed for the brain to operate effectively, sleep. My response was not what they wanted. Instead of recognition or admiration they were admonished. To me it reflected poor work habits.  They had left the work so late that a heroic effort was needed to maximise the use of their limited time. It was poor learning.

In my role as Head, however, I have been aware of how I have worked very long hours and worn that heroic badge, particularly around report writing time. But as I worked into the small hours, the efficiency with which I worked deteriorated each hour. I took longer to read, longer to write and needed longer to stay up. Hence my interest in a Radio 4 programme, The joy of 9 to 5, where they looked at the impact of working long hours and how ineffective we become once we work beyond 50 hours a week.

For every hour past that time, the efficiency declined to such a significant extent that the hours were ill spent. They argued convincingly that it would be better to go to bed and get some sleep and do the work in the morning. You were wasting time staying awake.

Arianna Huffington is leading a sleep campaign. She regularly worked an 18 hour day to be successful, yet she was not thriving. Sleep deprivation, she says, is affecting our creativity, our productivity and most of all our decision making. Yet despite the evidence highlighting the physical and cognitive need for sleep, lack of sleep has become our symbol of success.

In today’s work culture we measure, mistakenly, success by the amount of time rather than the quality of time we put into our work. The longer the hours you work, the longer you stay at the office and work all night, the more dedicated you must be and therefore a better employee. What is not considered is the quality of work that results. I do sometimes worry that some of the treaties and trade agreements that are agreed late into the night would have been more effective if they had been considered after a good night’s sleep.

Increasingly at school we are considering well-being. I know I am better at my job and feel less strained if I have had a good night’s sleep. My well-being significantly improves. Listening to the debates on sleep I am now more ruthless with myself. I have stopped working at a set time to get the proper hours of sleep my body needs. In order to get the work done I am more focused and procrastinate less. I have found with more sleep this has become easier. We need to ensure the girls understand the advantages of taking this disciplined approach.

As Huffington says: “Too many of us think of our sleep as the flexible item in our schedule that can be endlessly moved around to accommodate our fixed and top priority of work.”

I am beginning to realise sleep has to become my top priority in order to do my job well. I have signed up to Huffington’s campaign and am now encouraging the girls to do the same. Sleep deprivation, especially around examination revision time, can only impede their progress. A good night’s rest will enhance their cognitive performance and I am all for that!”


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