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How to Get Enough Sleep

Jessica L Gilgor

How to Get Enough Sleep
oatawa via iStock

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The legal profession is talking about mental health more and more. Sleep is an essential part of your mental health. Healthy sleep reduces the risk of mental health issues like depression and decreases your risk of heart disease and high blood pressure.

As high school students, I’m sure all you wanted to do was sleep—not much changes when you enter adulthood. An American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) study showed that, on average, adults ranked sleep as the second most important priority in their lives. The only thing more important to the average adult is family, which means that sleep is more a priority for adults than their jobs, nutrition, and entertainment.

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

The AASM recommends adults should get seven hours or more of sleep per night, which is about 49 hours per week. This can seem almost impossible in the legal profession when you’re already trying to find more hours in your day. Only 15 percent of American adults get seven hours or more of sleep on a regular, consistent basis.

Dr. Virginia Skiba is the associate program director and section chief of sleep medicine at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, Michigan. She has some tips for getting enough sleep in your day or week to keep your health, both physical and mental, in tip-top shape:

Have a Bedtime Routine

Have a bedtime routine that allows you to disconnect from the day’s stress. “[This] is the time to unwind, not think about work, not think about other stressful events,” said Dr. Skiba. Your routine should start anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes before going to bed.

Some things to include in your routine:

Some things to leave out of your routine:

Make Your Sleep Space a Sanctuary

Make your sleep space a sanctuary, a place that you only use for sleep and not work. To make your sleep space a sanctuary, try a dark, quiet, and cool space. In fact, a warm sleep environment can cause poor sleep. Keep your sleep space between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Set boundaries and let others know when you plan to sleep to help you set your bedtime. Only about 55 percent of adults have a set bedtime, and the number one cause of missing a set bedtime is binge-watching. Ninety-five percent of adults between 18 and 44 miss their set bedtime due to binge-watching. Televisions also emit bright/blue light, which can disrupt your sleep. Try moving the TV (or your phone) out of your newly created sleep space sanctuary.

Keep Active During the Day

The legal profession is not necessarily known for being “active” throughout the day. We’re not running marathons or 5Ks during the day. Usually, lawyers sit behind a desk drafting a motion, reviewing discovery, negotiating, or preparing a contract.

Try to get outside for a little bit. Take a walk around the building. Absorb some Vitamin D from the sun. Dr. Skiba says that being active in the day—by getting exercise and sunlight—will help maintain the body’s sleep-wake rhythm. Dr. Skiba also notes if you are lying in bed, feeling restless, unable to sleep, you should get out of bed and not come back until you’re tired. This keeps your bed dedicated to sleeping so your brain knows “bed = sleep” and not “bed = do other things.”

Naps Are Not Just for Children

Who doesn’t love a good nap when you feel like death from a lack of sleep? The length of the nap you want to take varies depending on why you’re taking that nap.

If you didn’t get your full seven hours of sleep last night, Dr. Skiba says your nap should be however long it needs to be to get those seven hours.

If you got your full seven hours but need a little more pep in that step, Dr. Skiba says a 20-minute nap will be just enough to make you more alert to continue your day. If you sleep any longer, you risk running into being groggier than before your nap—or sleep inertia.

Here is a little-known secret: drink your coffee before taking that nap. Dr. Skiba says that caffeine takes approximately 20 minutes to kick in. If you drink your coffee and then take a 20-minute “power nap” to be more alert, the caffeine will be kicking in right as you wake up, giving you an extra boost.

Keep Up with Your Sleep Bank and Don’t Go into Debt

Dr. Skiba suggests if you know you’re going to have one or two days where you’re not going to get your full seven hours, add some extra on the weekend. Instead of getting seven hours on Saturday, aim for ten. Be careful not to go into sleep debt by not having your 49 hours for the week.

Remember, sleep is vital for both your physical and mental health. In the legal profession, both are essential to advocate for your clients without being tired in the process.

Lawyers are in one of the most sleep-deprived occupations. Yet, lawyers must get adequate sleep to recover from occupational stresses and perform legal work at the highest professional level. If you struggle to get enough sleep, get tips from a sleep medicine specialist in the on-demand CLE program Lawyer Well-being: How to Get Enough Sleep.