Chances are, you didn’t choose law as a career path believing it would lead to restful nights.
But just like all adults, we lawyers do need sleep to stay healthy and function. In fact, according to the National Sleep Foundation, most adults need at least seven hours a night in order to avoid the dangerous (and potentially career-damaging) effects of sleep deprivation.
Finding that much time for sleep is a scary concept when you’ve got a caseload or a deal blowing up that could benefit from consistent all-nighters. In reality, though, plenty of us have trouble shutting our brains off and actually falling asleep even when we do budget enough time. You’ve probably heard about the importance of avoiding screens in the hours leading up to bedtime, and that regular exercise can help tire out your body and promote sleep. But what if you’re doing both and still tossing and turning? Or what if neither is possible when you’re giving all you’ve got to hit your billable hours and impress the senior partners?
Don’t fear! There are other strategies out there that can help, even if you’ve only got a handful of hours for rest before getting back to marking up another document or drafting that memo.
Take a Short, Hot Shower
Yes, even if you already showered earlier in the day. And yes, even if showering helps energize you in the morning. Why? Because studies have shown that a decreasing body temperature signals to your body that it’s time to rest. A hot shower an hour or so before your ideal bedtime will elevate your body temperature, and then as you naturally cool down while you prepare for bed, your heart rate and other metabolic functions will slow down, telling your body it’s time for sleep. Just be sure not to shower for too long, which could raise your body temperature excessively and wake you up. Experts suggest capping nighttime showers at about 15 minutes.
For many people, sensory deprivation can be relaxing, and it’s no secret being relaxed can help lead to sleep. Using earplugs as you’re getting ready for bed can help make a noisy living situation quieter—and therefore more relaxing—or make an already quiet environment even more soothing. As an added bonus, earplugs are also believed to increase the quality of your sleep (and let’s be real, we need to get the most value out of the hours we do get). Earplugs are also helpful if you’ve got a noisy partner, HVAC system, or neighborhood. If you’re concerned about sleeping through your alarm and missing a morning client meeting, don’t be. The volume on most smartphone alarms can go high enough, but there are also alternative types of alarm clocks that use light or vibration to wake you, which won’t be affected by earplugs.
We’re big fans of mindfulness meditation for all lawyers, but especially when it comes to promoting sleep. Studies have shown that regular meditation during the day can help with insomnia, but you can also find short sleep-supporting meditations to incorporate into your bedtime routine. And we’re all in luck: There are scores of resources out there, even for newbies. Meditation apps are a great place to start, and naturally, the coaches who lead sleep sessions have the most soothing voices. Stop, Breathe & Think is a great option, as is Calm, but there are plenty more to be found in your app store.
Stay up too Late (Yes, Really)
Let’s say you tried the hot shower, you’re wearing earplugs, you’ve meditated … and you’re still struggling to fall asleep. Not all hope is lost! In cases like this, sleep specialists often recommend what can only be thought of as leaning in to your sleep struggles. The technical term is “paradoxical intervention,” but what that really means is deliberately staying up late and purposefully avoiding any efforts to fall asleep, even if sleep is the only thing you want. Sounds a little crazy, but it’s one of the most effective treatments for insomnia. By trying to stay awake, you let go of the worry about falling asleep, which is often a big reason why you’re having trouble sleeping (especially if you’re stressing about being well rested for the next day’s court appearance).
Talk to an MD
While it’s natural for lawyerly work stress to keep you up sometimes, if you’ve tried everything above and still regularly struggle to fall asleep, a doctor might be able to help. There are plenty of doctor-assisted ways to battle insomnia, including medication and therapy. A specialist can analyze your sleep patterns and struggles, and then tell you more about what might make the most sense for you.
Pick at least one of the first four options from above and commit to making it a part of your routine for one week. Don’t be afraid to mix and match—sometimes, it takes a few strategies in tandem to get the job done.