Reset Your Internal Clock

Have you been hitting snooze all summer? Try these 5 ideas to help you ease back into your school schedule.

Happy young woman waking up in her bed at home and stretching her arms above her head

by NEA Member Benefits

After a summer of late nights and outdoor activities, getting back into an early morning routine can be tricky, especially since most teachers are already sleep deprived. Research shows that 43% of teachers get six hours or less of sleep each night, far less than the seven to nine hours recommended for healthy functioning. Add in the barrage of responsibilities that back-to-school time brings, and it’s easy to see why 64% of teachers claim they are drowsy during the school day.

“People who struggle to change their wake-up routine at back-to-school time have often associated everything pleasurable—vacation, sleeping, summer, no work—with sleeping late, so waking up early can appear to be a punishment,” says Caroline Adams Miller, MAPP, professional coach and author of “Creating Your Best Life: The Ultimate Life List Guide.” But if you pair enjoyable early morning activities with a little planning and preparation, shifting your body’s internal clock can be relatively painless.

Here, five tips for easing back into your back-to-school schedule.

1. Change your waking and sleeping times two weeks before school starts. Move your bedtime up, set your alarm clock and try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day (even on weekends). You might even try changing your waking time in small increments, say moving it up 15 minutes each day. “Rewarding yourself for a desirable behavior is one of the most time-tested ways of changing behavior,” says Miller. “Make your mornings a ‘win’ with a fun activity or leisurely breakfast in the two weeks prior to school’s start.” Then you’ll want to get out of bed.

2. Establish a soothing bedtime routine—and stick to it. Instead of trying to put together your lesson plans or solve family dilemmas right before bedtime, turn to soothing activities like taking a warm bath, meditating or reading. “Spending just two to three minutes engaging in deep breathing is enough to signal your body that it’s time to relax and go to sleep,” says Adrianne Ahern, Ph.D., author of “Back in Charge.” And keep work, computers, television and other distractions out of the bedroom because they signal the brain that its time to awaken, not sleep. Still having trouble falling asleep? “Focus on images not thoughts,” suggests Ahern. “So instead of thinking about what you have to do the next day, picture yourself confidently walking into an organized classroom filled with attentive children ready to learn.”

3. Get organized. “Organization is the key to success,” says Miller. “Even Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America, says that being organized is critical to how much she gets done, so she organizes each day the night before with a check list of things to do.”  The more methodical you are about scheduling, the less time you'll waste—particularly when it comes to planning your day. Pack lunches and plan dinner menus on weekends. Use a day planner or calendar to keep school activities organized and top of mind.

4. Watch what—and when—you eat. Tea, soda, chocolate—they all contain caffeine, which stays in your body for three to five hours. In fact, it’s best not to eat anything two to three hours before your regular bedtime. Eat a heavy meal too close to bedtime, and you may suffer from heartburn, which will interfere with sleep. The same rule applies to liquids. You don’t want to disrupt your slumber for a simple bathroom trip. “Have dinner at 5 or 6 p.m., so you have a few hours to get organized after dinner and digest your meal,” suggests Ahern.

5. Get moving. Study after study shows that people who are more physically active get better sleep. Plus, when you’re tired, a brisk walk can help you feel more energized, claims Ahern. Just don’t work out right before bed. Exercise causes your body temperature to rise and it takes about six hours for it to drop again. And since a cooler body temperature is associated with sleep onset, it’s best to exercise before 3 p.m.