And so to sleep
Elizabeth Rimmer encourages lawyers to adopt good sleep hygiene to improve their quality of sleep
Sleep is crucial to our wellbeing. Our bodies require long periods of sleep in order to restore and rejuvenate, to grow muscle, repair tissue, and synthesise hormones.
Sleep also helps the subconscious to process the day’s events. Research shows after people sleep, they tend to retain information and perform better on memory tasks.
While we can cope fairly well with one or two late nights, regularly getting less than seven hours’ sleep has a significant negative impact on performance.
Sleep is also the theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (18-24 May). At LawCare we hear from many legal professionals who are experiencing a lack of sleep.
Also, our sleep factsheet is one of the most downloaded factsheets from our website. Some lawyers are simply not getting home in time from work to get to bed at a reasonable hour.
They may be expected (or feel they are expected) to respond to emails in the evening, which can interrupt the relax and wind down period we need to be able to sleep.
Often, people who contact us are under a great deal of stress or anxiety, either at work or in their personal life – so even if they are getting to bed at a reasonable time, they find it impossible to switch off.
Some get to sleep, but then find themselves wide awake in the small hours thinking about a work problem. Many have small children who wake in the night and need attention. A lack of sleep tends to cause more stress and anxiety – and it becomes a vicious circle.
Some might actually be in bed for eight hours but are still exhausted when they wake. This might be because they’re not getting the deep sleep they need. Healthy adults need between 13 per cent and 23 per cent of their sleep to be deep sleep – about 110 minutes if asleep for eight hours.
So how can you get more, and better-quality sleep? There are healthy habits (often called ‘sleep hygiene’) you can adopt, including:
Get some exercise – Research shows that exercise improves sleep and helps sleep disorders such as insomnia. Don’t exercise too close to bedtime otherwise it will have the opposite effect.
Address your stress levels – If you’re feeling very stressed you need to address your stress levels first in order to sleep.
Have a wind down routine – Caffeine, alcohol, sugar, rich food and physical or mental activity near bedtime will affect your sleep, as will blue light from screens.
Have an evening routine which is conducive to going to bed and involves relaxation and enjoyment for an hour or so; put your phone away, read, have a bath. Being prepared for the next day can help you to relax.
Clear your head – Get into the practice of quietening the mind at bedtime. Calm your mind and try not dwell on intrusive thoughts. Instead, focus on your breathing or try a mindfulness or meditation app.
Create a sleep sanctuary – Your bedroom should be cool and dark; your bed comfortable and supportive. Keep electronics out of the bedroom, although white noise or gentle music may help. If your room isn’t dark enough try an eye mask.
Track your sleep – People often underestimate the amount of sleep they actually get. Some fitness trackers monitor sleep, or you could keep a sleep log.
If you wake up in the night – Don’t allow your mind to start thinking. If you can’t get back to sleep get up and do something until you feel sleepy again (but don’t look at your phone). Keep the lights low. Reading can also help.
Wake up at the same time every day – Even when you have had a poor night’s sleep. This helps your body find a natural rhythm that will help you go to sleep at night.
See your GP – If you’re having prolonged periods of interrupted or little sleep, see your GP who can rule out a sleep disorder or other health condition.
If you can’t sleep and need to talk, contact LawCare in confidence on 0800 279 6888; or visit lawcare.org.uk to access webchat, email support and other resources.
Elizabeth Rimmer is chief executive officer at LawCare lawcare.org.uk