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Personal & Financial

How Do I Turn Off My Brain at Night?

Jeena Cho


  • Learning how to regulate your emotional landscape, disengage from work, and train your mind so that it’s not working around the clock is a skill set, just like learning how to draft a complaint or take a deposition.
How Do I Turn Off My Brain at Night?
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How do I turn off my brain at night?

Dear Reader,

As a fellow attorney who struggles to “turn off” my brain at night, I can relate to this struggle!

The most important thing is that this is a skill that can be learned and practiced. Learning how to regulate your own emotional landscape, disengage from work, and train your mind so that it’s not working around the clock is a skill set, just like learning how to draft a complaint or take a deposition. Remember that being well-rested is essential for being fully present for work.

A helpful way to explore the difficulties of turning off your mind is to become curious about the experience. This may sound counterproductive, but you can’t change a pattern you do not understand. An acronym useful for this process is RAIN—recognize, acknowledge, investigate, and nurture with compassion.

Recognize How You Feel

Recognize throughout the day when your body and mind feel stable, rested, and well-nourished. Also, be mindful of how you feel throughout the day when your mind and body are in a state of dysregulation, agitation, anxiety, or stress. Incorporating a daily meditation practice is a way to intentionally carve out time to pay attention to your state of mind and well-being. It doesn’t need to take much time; just a few minutes per day is a great place to start.

Acknowledge the Patterns You Observe

Are you checking your work email while lying in bed? Is your mind replaying some irritating conversation you had with your opposing counsel? Are you doom scrolling through the news? Are there specific stressors or trauma responses you need to address? Are you not getting sufficient exercise during the day? Are you experiencing vicarious trauma from working with your clients?

When we notice habits or patterns in our lives that we are unhappy with, it’s easy to judge ourselves or engage in negative self-talk. Whatever is causing your mind to spin out of control incessantly at night, practice meeting the experience with kind, compassionate acceptance. This step is also known as radical acceptance. This does not mean you won’t take steps to change it, but that can only happen after you recognize and accept what is happening now.

Investigate Your Mind

Imagine that you are a scientist of your own mind. Try different strategies for calming your mind and gathering data. A good place to start is to google “sleep hygiene” and make sure you are creating an optimal environment for rest in the evening.

Rather than approaching this inquiry in terms of success or failure, focus on gathering data. When you eat certain foods, does that calm or agitate your nervous system? When you do some light yoga before bedtime, does that help? How about taking a bath? How about meeting with a therapist? Learning how to set better boundaries? Resting the mind is a multifaceted process.

Fortunately, the skills you have gained as a lawyer—research, fact gathering, analysis—are all very useful for figuring out how to best support your body to rest. Given all the research on the harmful effects of lack of sleep, I would argue that being well-rested is necessary for being a good lawyer. Notice any held beliefs about rest as a possible hindrance—for example, thoughts such as you can rest when you’re dead, are common beliefs that are quite toxic and counter to rest.

Nurture Productive Practices

The last step is to nurture whatever conditions seem to be productive in helping you to settle your nervous system. This might be keeping a journal on your nightstand so that if you wake up in the middle of the night with your mind racing, you can write down whatever is worrying you. It could be connecting with your friends or colleagues to discuss the challenges you are experiencing as a lawyer. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for calming the anxious mind. Especially if you have struggled with this issue for a while, it will likely take patience and investigation before you can figure out what is happening. Be patient with yourself.