Sleep: Vital Component of Attorney Wellness

The Bencher—March/April 2020

By Vanessa Day, Esquire

Sleep is a vital component of attorney wellness, yet the importance of sleep is often overlooked. It can seem harmless to skimp on sleep to stay up late to work on a case or project. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep problems. Sleep deprivation is a public safety and health issue. This article will first discuss the importance of sleep and the impact to your health, safety concerns, and performance issues. Second, tips for better sleep will be reviewed. Finally, I will share information on what you can do if you still cannot sleep because of sleep disorders.

Why Sleep Is Important

The lack of sleep can have many negative side effects on the body. According to an October 2015 article in Scientific American, research has revealed that sleep deprivation can affect brain functions such as memory, emotion, and the regulation of your appetite. Research also shows that the lack of sleep can affect your immune system and blood pressure.

The American Bar Association Model Rule 1.1, Competence, states a lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation reasonably necessary for representation. Competent representation is difficult to provide when an attorney is sleep deprived as memory may not be as sharp. Other health issues can develop as result of sleep deprivation.

The lack of sleep can increase your risk of obesity because it affects the endocrine system and makes your body less sensitive to the hormone insulin. The CDC lists sleep deprivation as being associated with injuries, chronic diseases, mental illnesses, poor quality of life, and well-being. Some of the chronic diseases are diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and depression. Ongoing research shows that the lack of sleep may be a factor in diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Sleep deprivation can have deadly consequences. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2017 an estimated 91,000 police-reported crashes involved drowsy drivers. These crashes led to an estimated 50,000 people injured and nearly 800 deaths. One example is the 2014 accident in which actor and comedian Tracy Morgan was severely injured and comedian James McNair was killed. The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the truck driver in the crash had not slept for more than 28 hours, according to a article published on August 12, 2015.

How Much Sleep Do I Need?

You may ask “how much sleep do I need?” Most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep as recommended by the CDC. However, needs vary by individual so you can experiment with what feels best for your body. According to the New York Times bestseller “Why We Sleep” by Matthew Walker, PhD, the question “am I getting enough sleep?” can be thoroughly answered by a clinical sleep assessment. The book offers an easy rule of thumb in which you answer two simple questions: “First, after waking up in the morning, could you fall back asleep at 10 or 11 a.m.? If the answer is ‘yes,’ you are likely not getting sufficient sleep quantity and/or quality. Second, can you function optimally without caffeine before noon? If the answer is ‘no’ then you are most likely self-medicating your state of chronic sleep deprivation.” Both are signs that you should take your sleep deficiency seriously and seek to address the problem. You may be able to track your sleep patterns by using smart technology, watches, and various apps.

Tips for Better Sleep

  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) lists the following tips for getting a good night’s sleep:
  • Set a schedule—go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
  • Exercise 20 to 30 minutes a day but no later than a few hours before going to bed.
  • Avoid caffeine and nicotine late in the day and alcoholic drinks before bed.
  • Relax before bed—try a warm bath, reading, or another relaxing routine.
  • Create a room for sleep—avoid bright lights and loud sounds, keep the room at a comfortable temperature, and don’t watch TV or have a computer in your bedroom.
  • Don’t lie in bed awake. If you can’t get to sleep, do something else, such as reading or listening to music, until you feel tired.

The CDC also recommends avoiding large meals before bedtime. Some people are helped by using sound machines, such as those that produce white noise, to help induce or deepen sleep. Consider keeping a notepad near your bed so that when you feel stressed or anxious you can write down to-do items or worries. This can help clear your mind and allow you to concentrate on rest.

Sleep Problems

If you still have problems sleeping after implementing the sleep tips recommended by the NIH, keep a two-week sleep diary and visit a physician (certified sleep specialist) to discuss and evaluate your situation. It could be a sleep disorder such as insomnia, narcolepsy, restless legs syndrome, or sleep apnea.

Today, there are many treatments, such as cognitive behavior therapy, to successfully treat sleep disorders. There are also numerous over-the-counter and prescription medicines, such as melatonin hormone therapy that can regulate your sleep pattern.

According to the NIH, “without sleep you can’t form or maintain the pathways in your brain that let you learn and create new memories, and it’s harder to concentrate and respond quickly.” With adequate sleep, you will be more effective and efficient. The bonus is you will feel better, protect your health, and serve your clients better. Therefore, the legal profession and the public will benefit from each lawyer getting a good night’s sleep.

Vanessa Day, Esq. is a member of the Justice Stewart G. Pollock Environmental American Inn of Court in New Jersey. She works for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

© 2020 Vanessa Day, Esquire. This article was originally published in the March/April 2020 issue of The Bencher, a bi-monthly publication of the American Inns of Court. This article, in full or in part, may not be copied, reprinted, distributed, or stored electronically in any form without the written consent of the American Inns of Court.