Faculty crunched for sleep

Faculty crunched for sleep

With a schedule crammed tight with grading, coaching tennis and teaching, Bruce Anderson, associate professor of political science, often cuts back on sleep to keep up.

“I dare not sleep past 6 a.m. on any given day,” Anderson said. “I never sleep in, not even on the weekends. If I did, I wouldn’t have a life.”

Ball State University conducted a survey last week that showed students aren’t the only ones clipping sleep to keep up – professors are just as crunched. About 43 percent of respondents reported sleeping six hours or less each night – less than the recommended seven to nine hours.

Lack of sleep can affect mental efficiency and impair teaching ability, Ruth Sarna, director of student health services, said.

“Without adequate sleep the body just doesn’t run as efficiently,” Sarna said. “It can cause a whole slew of problems.”

Anderson exemplifies the on-the-go professor surveyed and to avoid reducing sleep, he runs a tight shift. On the weekends, if he’s visiting his children in Nebraska, he hauls his work with him. His children are used to seeing him clutch a hefty stack of papers to grade. 

And never sleeping more than six hours a night, Anderson launches the day by firing up a pot of coffee and poring over e-mails and daily tasks. He spends about an hour honing his schedule to make sure he can jam everything in.

“It’s the one time in the day that I have to take about an hour and think about what I’m doing,” Anderson said. “But there are going to be times when you don’t get as much sleep as you wish you would. …When we are operating at top gear like this, people do get tired.”

According to the study, lack of sleep makes professors sluggish or drowsy during the day. One quarter of professors surveyed admitted to being impaired. Acknowledging lack of sleep could negatively impact teaching performance, some professors cut back on extra activities instead.

Joe Watson, assistant professor of mass media and communication, sometimes has to pull back from family time to peruse research papers or exams.

“It’s very common for me to have to back out on time with my wife and daughter some weekends,” Watson said. “I definitely notice that when it’s finals, I’m having to step back from family commitments and things like that I’d probably rather be doing.”

Sometimes he cuts back on sleep.

“With finals in particular, there’s so much stuff coming in a lot of times there’s just not enough time … so you just have to stay up late and get it done,” he said.

The survey found women are more likely to experience irregular sleeping patterns or feel drowsy during the day. Adjunct Instructor of English Marti Mihalyi said when she first started teaching years ago she struggled to get enough sleep. Now she usually gets enough and relishes the nights she can get eight hours.

Still, Mihalyi is frequently on the go all day until she noses her car into the drive at 11:30 p.m. Mihalyi teaches night classes and sometimes, after a three-hour class, it’s hard to cruise home and plop into bed.

“Anyone doing an intense job of teaching a night class may find it hard then to either go home and do a lot of work and grading and prep for the next day or to even go home and fall asleep,” she said. “I think (losing on sleep) probably happens to all of us, quite frequently.”

Mihalyi, Watson and Anderson all said they make a conscious effort to pull back from social activities before sleep, though. But sometimes, it’s easier said than done.

“I may come in with four hours sleep sometimes, and that’s too little,” Anderson said. “(But) otherwise, I wouldn’t feel like I was giving (my job) what it’s supposed to have. Sleep sometimes suffers.”