Law is the second most sleep-deprived profession, according to a 2012 survey in America. Countless lawyers experience work-related stress, and it is known that stress can affect our sleep patterns. This problem has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has left people across all industries with restless, anxious minds, often during the night. Stress management is the most important part of the puzzle for overall improved health, but targeting sleep specifically can also help you to manage the cycle of high stress and low sleep quality. Practising good sleep hygiene can help, but if it’s an overactive mind keeping you awake at night, you need a few strategies in place to help you turn off your worry.
Anxiety About Your Workload
No matter how tired you are, sorting out the next day’s schedule and worrying about pending jobs can keep you awake at night. Take some time before you go to bed to write down important things to remember for the next day. A Wake Forest University study found that uncompleted tasks distract us, while planning to do them can remove the anxiety. Work through the next day’s schedule before you begin your night time routine, writing down all the jobs you need to remember. Worrying that you’re going to forget them or planning how to manage your day will keep your brain active when you’re trying to sleep, and this will affect your productivity the next day.
If you’re currently working from home under lockdown, try to keep your work confined to a designated space in your house. This will help you control ‘mission creep’ and allow you to keep your work and home life separate. Be careful to stick to your working hours, and try not to fall prey to the temptation to work longer hours to quell your anxiety: there will always be more work to do, so this will only breed more stress.
Negative Thoughts Can Spiral
Stress and anxiety can lead to catastrophic thinking. For example, “If I don’t finish this research, I’ll be unprepared in court, and we’ll lose the case.” Negative thought spirals like this can keep you from getting to sleep, so try to notice when they’re happening to you: catastrophic thinking usually follows a regular pattern, beginning with a thought and then expanding into anxiety about possible outcomes. If you recognise these patterns, you’ll be better able to stop them in their tracks.
When you’re writing down tomorrow’s tasks, take five minutes to write down your worries too. Recognise which problems are real and which are hypothetical: simply acknowledging your worry about them and seeing which things can be fixed can help alleviate anxiety and stop your mind whirring once you get to bed.
While we’re in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, it may also be helpful to avoid watching the news before bed. Set specific times of the day to catch up on the events and limit the time you spend on news sites and social media. Constant worry about the pandemic can send your thoughts spiralling, and this will not help your sleep.
Worrying About Sleep
If you have difficulty sleeping, worrying about it can exacerbate the problem. Anthropological research has shown that bi-modal sleeping was standard prior to the late 17th century: it was common for people to sleep in two phases. Waking up during the night is natural, and if you’re aware of this, you’re less likely to worry about it and consequently more likely to get back to sleep if you wake up. Accepting that good quality sleep does not necessarily mean sleeping solidly through the night can help you reduce your sleep anxiety, and subsequently pave the way for better sleep.
Practising good sleep hygiene can help you improve your sleep quality, but if it’s an overactive mind keeping you awake at night, taking steps to reduce night time worry will help you sleep better and reduce overall stress. Recognise what’s worrying you and empty your thoughts onto paper, and try not to worry about not being able to sleep: it’s only making the problem worse.
Lucy Peters, freelance writer
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