As a personal trainer and a wellness consultant, I work with a lot of attorneys struggling to balance the stresses of lawyer life. Those who carve out time to exercise and eat healthy often sacrifice sleep to get it all done.
The average person needs seven to eight hours of quality sleep, and less than 3 percent of people are so-called short sleepers who need fewer than six hours per night. Sleep deficiency diminishes our cognitive function, physical health and metabolism. It leads to memory and concentration difficulties, increased hunger and cravings for sugar and poor physical performance. It has also been linked to depression, suicide and risk-taking behavior.
Making sleep a priority can be challenging for busy lawyers, but it is equally as important to our well-being as nutrition and exercise. These tips have helped my clients improve their sleep behaviors, making them healthier people and better lawyers.
Three-minute meditation There are several quality free apps to help with meditation. I recommend Stop, Breathe & Think. You can meditate any time of day, but it’s especially helpful when getting home from work and trying to transition from professional to personal time.
Put down your devices Your iPhone, iPad, laptop and any other devices that emit blue light stimulate the “fight or flight” mechanisms of your sympathetic nervous system. Not a great thing to do before bedtime. So put those devices down and definitely minimize their use in the 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime. If you must use them before bed, do so by using blue light blocking glasses.
Take five deep breaths Devices jack up your sympathetic nervous system (“fight or flight”). Deep breathing from your diaphragm stimulates the reciprocal parasympathetic nervous system responsible for “rest and digest.” Taking a few deep breaths where you exhale twice as long as you inhale (try four seconds in and eight seconds out) can have an amazing impact.
Give yourself transition time You can’t go from 0 to 60 mph first thing in the morning and you can’t do the reverse at night. Build in a few minutes of transition time to wind down or wake up to naturally release calming/stimulating hormones.
Let it go and journal Sleep is not the best time to work or solve life’s problems. Keep a notebook (not your phone or device) by your bedside to write down thoughts that spring to mind while trying to sleep and save them for tomorrow.
Don’t exercise Well … don’t exercise right before bed. Try to time your workout four to six hours before bedtime. However, it’s OK to do some gentle stretching or yoga for 5-15 minutes to release tension.
Try to become a back sleeper and avoid stomach sleeping This change can improve sleep quality and to reduce muscle and joint issues. Check out this post for more on the best and worst sleep positions.
Limit caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and super stimulating TV/reading Sad but true, while many of these things appear to help, they are actually disrupting your body’s natural processes and lead to disordered sleep.
Minimize jet lag When traveling to another time zone, try to select a flight that arrives in the early evening and stay up until 10 p.m. local time. Try to get outside in the sunlight during your trip; staying inside intensifies jet lag symptoms.
Go to bed early enough to get the sleep you need This one is a no-brainer, but can be the hardest for the hardheaded to practice. Power down your devices, turn off “Game of Thrones” and get into bed a solid 7.5 hours before you need to wake. Start by adding just 10 extra minutes and slowly continue adding 10 minutes over time to make the change manageable.
Keep your sleep space for sleeping Don’t watch TV, read or use mobile devices in bed. This will lead to a pattern of falling asleep quicker when you get into bed. Create a comfortable, dark and quiet space. If you’ve been putting off a bed/bedroom makeover (like installing blackout shades or getting a firmer mattress), get it done ASAP. Consider it a court order.
For further reading I recommend “Why We Sleep“ by Matthew Walker Ph.D.
Jonathan Jordan is a personal trainer at Equinox in San Francisco. His clients include lawyers at Nixon Peabody; Keker, Van Nest & Peters; and Morrison & Foerster.