If you've ever been on a long road trip, I'm sure you'll be familiar with the road signs that remind you that tiredness kills. Now, if like me, you've ever driven as a chronically sleep-deprived parent and have been conscious of nodding at the wheel, even with the windows down, you'll know just how true that sign on the motorway is. And the advice it suggests? Take a break!
It may seem a little drastic to compare the need for rest with risk of death. But, in terms of mental and emotional health, I believe it is. Tiredness murders patience and obliterates joy. Chronic tiredness can also crucify confidence, self-esteem and kindness. Speaking from experience, I know my patience for seemingly minor irritations is below zero and mountains are formed out of the most innocent mole hills. My children recognise the "don't push me" signals - the constricted body language, the glares of displeasure and the dulcet tones of 'too tired for this' in my voice.
With low levels of energy, one can very quickly resort to snapping at others, being short tempered and narrow minded. The correlation between tiredness and volatile relationships is clearly evident and especially crucial at home and in schools.
Healthy relationships require the ability to see more than one point of view; the willingness to listen; and the inclination to build bridges with compassion and empathy. The introspective dialogue that shapes our internal landscape is equally at risk from a tired mind. Negative self-talk escalates when one is tired. Positive thoughts diminish and negative thoughts gain the power. When tired, there is limited resistance to the gremlins taunting you for being weak, stupid, lazy... fill in the blank.
When teachers put their marking before their sleep; when students keep pushing themselves to revise when they have reached capacity; and when parents consistently put their needs last, this is when tiredness takes its toll. Personal resolve diminishes along with determination, self-belief and constructive criticism. Often poor food choices are made. There is no room for creativity, fun or appreciation. Present moment awareness, gratitude and sometimes even love are destroyed. Cynicism takes over and battles it out with paranoia. One feels 'less than', not good enough and caught in the unfavourable comparison trap. Manners dissipate. I don't know about you, but I'm not very nice to be around. (Somebody put me to bed!)
This is why I suggest students take regular breaks from studying, especially revision. This is why I invite parents to rest when they can and create some space for themselves. This is why I beg teachers to stop, breathe and give themselves the oxygen first!
I know I'm a much better mum when I am rested and recharged. I'm a better listener, more tolerant, a less judgemental person, and a more compassionate friend - especially when a friend is moaning. I'm a far, far better teacher. I have space to be lenient and turn the other cheek. I can more easily find the funny side and not take myself or the situation too seriously. I can see the bigger picture and not take things personally. I have a clearer purpose for each moment. I am on task. On target. I am calm, present and energetic. My enthusiasm oozes out of every pore. I can engage, debate and appreciate many points of view.
This is when mindful magic happens!
Most importantly, my immune system is strong. I am strong. I am energised. I am well. When I am well, I can teach well. My brain functions efficiently. I can access the vocabulary I require and I can enjoy both the bigger picture and the minutiae. I am not distracted by aches and pains. I'm not forcing my body against its will to push through exhaustion. I'm not grasping to find a positive thought or something pleasant to say.
I do not need to make an effort. Teaching is effortless. There is natural joy in my heart and I am following my desires. Creativity and imagination join hand in hand with joy and laughter. I feel blessed to be in the classroom, in the kitchen or even supermarket. I am content. I smile easily. Life is good and my senses are alive. I notice things...
So get off the highway. Leave the fast lane. Step out of the race. Rest. Take the oxygen first. Pause a while. Be gentle with yourself. Whether you're a Head Teacher, a student, or a parent, your brain will function more efficiently with rest. Your body will be healthier and you will feel happier and more relaxed. The best decision you can make today is to prioritise more deep, rejuvenating rest for yourself. Your mind and body will thank you for it!