Sleeping on the job

16th September 2005 at 01:00
I'm shocked by what teachers do in bed. The ones I've asked - at least those too polite to tell me where to put my Dictaphone - tell me that they regularly mark, plan lessons, catch up on admin, compile undoable to-do lists, and speculate on which six lottery balls would guarantee that they'd never have to face 9G again. One cuddles up with the love of his life - his laptop. A head of year rehearses his assembly in readiness for the morning which can't be much fun for his wife - especially if he insists that she sings the hymn.

All of them seem to be particularly prone to what psychologists call TOTs - a name on "the tip of the tongue" which, for no sane reason, you feel compelled to remember before you have any chance of sleeping. A head of year confesses he woke up his wife (exhausted, no doubt, by her hymn singing) because he hoped she'd know the name of the actor who plays Grant Mitchell in Eastenders.

All this nocturnal activity, of course, is at the expense of sleep. A survey carried out for the Sleep Council reveals that on average teachers only get six hours a night instead of the recommended eight and a half. This leaves them rheumy-eyed, irritable, less effective in the classroom and more likely to succumb to stress which, in a vicious circle, results in them finding it even more difficult to sleep which results in... it makes me tired just typing this.

The relentless pressure of the job is obviously to blame. And, it seems, so is the PC. Unless you are a chronic cyberchondriac (someone who surfs the medical sites tracking down new illnesses to worry about), check out for an explanation of how emissions from the VDU could be playing havoc with your biological clock and sleep patterns. But before you resolve never to go near a computer again, check out,, and a range of other websites packed with expert advice on how to get your eight and a half hour's worth of deep and dreamless.

Children, too, are falling victim to what is being described as "an epidemic of sleep deprivation". Teachers should direct them to which is packed with games and activities designed to convince them that going to bed really is kool. Enough sleep will not only give them more oomph to do the things they enjoy doing, but also, according to American researchers, help them to perform significantly better at their school work. Quite simply: what our kids need is less ICT, and more KIP.

It needn't be reserved for night time. A quick 40 winks, anywhere, at any time during the day can work wonders. Visit or read The Art of Napping at Work (pound;9.99, to discover the benefits of a daily siesta for both young and old.

So if you are a teacher, it's obvious what you must do. During the first lesson after lunch forget the curriculum. Instead put out the lights, draw the blinds, and join your pupils for a quick class outing to the Land of Nod. And when they're fast asleep even 9G might seem sweet.

Of course, the true doyens of catnapping are the down-and-outs who have traditionally used public libraries to snooze their way through the doldrums of long afternoons. But all that has changed - at least, it has in my local library and in 4,000 others throughout the UK. The tables where they once rested their weary heads are now laden with state-of-the-art PCs. The dossers are victims of the People's Network, the government's scheme to bridge the digital divide by offering the old and disadvantaged free internet access at their local library.

It's a great idea, except at my library the machines always seem to be monopolised by the young and decidedly advantaged. Peep over their shoulders at the VDUs and you'll find that they're schmoozing in chat rooms, checking out bargain flights to exotic locations, killing time on eBay and all of the rest of the stuff they could do equally well in the cybercaf down the road. I wouldn't mind if it weren't for the simple arithmetic: the more money spent on ICT equals the less there is for books - which, at the moment accounts for only 9p in every pound of the library service's budget.

But the People's Network has inspired one amazing innovation. Visit The Enquire Service ( and, using instant messaging, you can engage in a conversation with a real librarian in real time, ready and willing to answer your research queries or direct you to relevant online resources.

It could prove particularly useful in the classroom. For example, a teacher could find it difficult to grab a restorative snooze during a lesson if she is constantly being pestered by pupils who have questions that need answering. They can now leave Miss in peace and turn instead to Enquire. I'm sure our nation's librarians should have no difficulty in coping with "how long is a dinosaur's tail?" or "what's the square root of 225?" or "may I go to the loo?" Remarkably, the service is available 247. It means that librarians on call must be missing out on their sleep. But it could prove a godsend to anyone who, in the wee small hours, has a compulsive need to know who plays Grant Mitchell.

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