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Lawyers: Sleep is the Key to Staying Mentally Sharp

2 min read

Lawyers: Sleep is the Key to Staying Mentally Sharp

Research has shown that lawyers are among the most sleep-deprived professionals. Most adults need seven or eight hours of sleep each night, at a minimum. Faced with long days at the office and stressful working environments, on top of family and social obligations, many attorneys fall far short of that recommendation. 

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When someone consistently gets by on less than the recommended seven or eight hours of sleep, they suffer from chronic sleep deprivation. Chronic sleep deprivation has a negative effect on several aspects of our cognitive performance, including attentiveness, memory, judgment, decision-making, concentration, and executive function.

It follows that sleep is especially important for lawyers because staying mentally sharp is critical to the success of our practices. 

Routines are key to good sleep.


One of the main things you can do to improve your sleep is to set a sleep schedule with a consistent wake-up time, and then go to bed early enough to allow for seven to eight hours of sleep. Our bodies like routines and a fixed sleep schedule allows your body to get into the rhythm you have chosen. Try to stick with the wake-up schedule, even on weekends! Developing a nightly routine before bed will help you fall asleep more easily. Give yourself 30 minutes or so to wind down, free of electronics or other stimulation, and focus on relaxation.  

Daytime habits can also influence our ability to fall asleep and to stay asleep. Spending some time outside during the day and soaking in some sunlight helps strengthen our natural wake/sleep cycles. Regular exercise during the day can improve our sleep by keeping us alert during the day – strengthening those wake/sleep cycles – and making us more likely to feel tired when we get in bed.  

Alcohol and screen time are the big obstacles to quality sleep.

One of the biggest obstacles to getting a good night’s sleep is alcohol. Even though alcohol might help someone fall asleep faster, it interferes with deep sleep cycles and has an overall adverse effect on sleep quality. For some, that means waking up in the middle of the night; for others, it means that our bodies do not get the amount of sleep needed to stay sharp. Try to stay away from frequent alcohol use, and try to avoid alcohol for a good four hours before bedtime.  

The more modern sleep obstacle is screen time.

The light from screens interrupts the body’s internal clock and suppresses melatonin, the hormone that controls our wake/seep cycle. Screens can also stimulate our brain and wake us up just when we should be relaxing and drifting off to sleep. Picking up the phone or tablet just before bed can also mean staying up way past our bedtime, mindlessly scrolling through page after page of content. The best habit is to avoid screens for one or two hours before bedtime and to think about leaving our phones in another room entirely while we sleep.   

The takeaway

Realistically, it would be difficult to follow these sleep guidelines to the letter every single day. Late-night trial preparation, dinners with clients, and drinks with friends are all part of a thriving professional career and a healthy family and social life. But if we can do our best to follow these simple recommendations more often than not, we can avoid the negative effects of chronic sleep deprivation. Getting more good sleep will keep us mentally sharp and better able to advocate for our clients -- and still have something left in the tank for our family and friends at the end of the day. 

Authored by:

Billy Belsom is a claims attorney with ALPS Insurance.

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