Attorneys' Need for Sleep

· 613 words · about 3 minutes

During sleep, our brains actually change states. Sleep clears away the toxic byproducts of neural activity left behind during the day, according to recent research published in the Journal of Neuroscience. Strangely, the same process occurs in chronically sleep-deprived brains, but to a harmful extent.

That same research shows that persistent sleep loss actually causes the brain to eat itself. An article from New Scientist puts it like this: “In the short term, this might be beneficial – clearing potentially harmful debris and rebuilding worn circuitry might protect healthy brain connections. But it may cause harm in the long term, and could explain why a chronic lack of sleep puts people at risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders.”

In Why We Sleep, Neuroscientist Matthew Walker takes these findings with others to offer a clear explanation of new discoveries in sleep research. Walker argues that making sleep a priority - getting regular, extended periods of sleep - can improve a person’s ability to learn, can help solidify memories, and can help tackle mental health issues like depression. Good sleep practices, according to Walker, can:

  • Improve Memory & Learning
  • Enhance Creative Abilities
  • Improve Mental & Physical Health
  • Increase Life Expectancy
  • Improve Productivity

Though restful sleep habits are essential to healthy living, attorneys are prone to deny that reality. “Research reflects that about a quarter of lawyers are workaholics, which is more than double that of the 10 percent rate estimated for U.S. adults generally. ...Research on short-term effects of sleep deprivation shows that people who average four hours of sleep per night for four or five days develop the same cognitive impairment as if they had been awake for 24 hours—which is the equivalent of being legally drunk.” That’s according to The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change, a report issued by a coalition of groups, including the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, aimed at addressing the problem of substance use and mental health disorders of lawyers. The report continues:

Quality sleep is critically important in the recovery process. Sleep deprivation has been linked to a multitude of health problems that decay the mind and body, including depression, cognitive impairment, decreased concentration, and burnout. Cognitive impairment associated with sleep-deprivation can be profound. For example, a study of over 5,000 people showed that too little sleep was associated with a decline over a five year-period in cognitive functioning, including reasoning, vocabulary, and global cognitive status. Research on short-term effects of sleep deprivation shows that people who average four hours of sleep per night for four or five days develop the same cognitive impairment as if they had been awake for 24 hours—which is the equivalent of being legally drunk. Given lawyers’ high risk for depression, it is worth noting evidence that sleep problems have the highest predictive value for who will develop clinical depression. (Emphasis added.)

Contrary to what is apparently popular opinion among attorneys, a good law practice does not include round-the-clock-hour-billing with a few winks grabbed here and there. Rather, the counsel who hits the hay on a regular basis for a good night’s sleep, Walker is prone to say, is the attorney who will be more clever, healthier, and happier. (You may also want to check out Creative CLE's course Get Wise: Mindfulness for Attorneys.)


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