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Why Are Lawyers Sleep Deprived?

Jorge JohnsonNovember 16, 2021,

Studies conducted on the lifestyle and sleep behavior of professionals working in the legal field always show lawyers to be alarmingly sleep-deprived. Lawyers are normally seen as sharp-dressed, high-paid quick-witted instruments in legal battles. However, what most people fail to realize is that, in reality, lawyers are living high-stress lifestyles, unreasonable work hours, and sleep-deprived nights.

We talked to people in the legal field and sleep and wellness experts, who explain why lawyers are sleep-deprived.

Long Working Hours

Lawyers are sleep deprived due to the nature of the legal profession, causing there to be not enough hours in the day. Lawyers are expected to bill hours (2,000 hours + at big firms), work on time-consuming tasks, develop business, and collect fees. They are then expected to work for free pro bono and be involved in bar association and community activities. 

After that, they may want to be parents, a spouse, do some exercise for self-care and maybe even have a hobby. Getting seven and a half hours of sleep a night is impossible.

Robert Herbst, an attorney, and Chair of the New York State Bar Association Working Group on Physical Health.

The ‘Stress-Sleep Cycle’

Sleep and stress have a direct relationship. If you are too stressed, you won’t get quality sleep; if you don't receive enough sleep, you are more prone to stress. It’s a vicious never-ending cycle that is known as the ‘sleep-stress cycle’. The reason many lawyers, and hopeful future lawyers, report the highest levels of sleep deprivation is directly correlated to their stress levels. Lawyers, and law students alike, have extremely demanding careers that come with a lot of extra stress. All this extra stress layered on from their career life will in no doubt take a toll on their sleep, and they will very quickly begin the sleep-stress cycle.

As I stated above, my dad has been an attorney for over 30 years; he started out as an Assistant District Attorney and is now a Superior Court Judge. When I was growing up, my dad would sleep three to four hours and then wake up and start working again. He was and still is in the viscous stress-sleep cycle. 

Abby Wood, Sleep Health Content Associate with Mattress Nerd

High-Stress Lifestyle

Lawyers are sleep-deprived for many reasons. They live a very high-stress lifestyle where they are constantly in a state of inner fire, arguing, criticizing, and in a state of constant stress. Lawyers are often known to drink alcohol after work and in social settings and celebrate after winning a case. 

Drinking alcohol at work and in social settings, whether professional or not, can create more stress on the body and mind. This can lead to sleeping issues that night. As well, lawyers are known to drink lots of caffeine and have coffee readily available at all times, which stresses out the body and mind creating sleeping problems. 

Lawyers may not always be able to have three meals a day because of their schedule. In order for lawyers to start to sleep better at night, I would highly recommend lifestyle changes that might take time and conscious effort. If you are a lawyer and you are struggling with sleep, working with a therapist can also help you learn to rebalance your life and create a work-life balance.

Lawyers also may be carrying legacy burdens from their own family and feel pressure internally to perform and be seen as successful. A lawyer may have had a parent who was a lawyer, so they are feeling this internal pressure to fill the shoes of their parent, and meet expectations, and show that they are responsible, and prove themselves. Working with a therapist can help a lawyer to let go of some of this perfectionism and start to develop self-compassion. 

Changing a lifestyle might be making time for meals every day, making time for a family, reducing alcohol consumption, reducing caffeine consumption, and even taking part in self-care activities like getting a massage or going to yoga class regularly. Lawyers can have a wonderful career and sleep well at night, but it all comes from living a balanced life and becoming conscious of the imbalance that is currently in life.

Katie Ziskind, Owner Wisdom Within Counseling

High-Stake Client Service

The main reason that lawyers are sleep deprived is the fact that they operate in a high-stakes client service industry. Clients pay large sums of money for their lawyer(s) to be available to solve complex issues at all hours of the day, and this often leads to extremely long working hours. For lawyers with clients that are based in different areas of the world (and in different time zones), this is all the more acute.

Note: I used to be a lawyer (working for a major U.S. law firm) until earlier this year. Being sleep-deprived and the 24/7 nature of the job is one of the main reasons I decided to change my career!

Alex Tiffany is a former Corporate Lawyer and the Founder of Just Go Exploring.

Clients Expecting Lawyers to Respond at all Times

If an attorney has their phone, clients can likely contact them through email, text, or phone call. This accessibility pressures lawyers to be available and respond at all hours of the day and even work through the night. This technology has blurred the line between work and free time, with clients expecting lawyers to respond at all times. 

The possibility of always being available for clients has heavily contributed to lawyers suffering from sleep deprivation as they can not get away from their work consistently. 

Jonathan Garza, Personal Injury Attorney Herrman, and Herrman PLLC

Sleep Deprivation In The Legal Profession And What Should Lawyers Do About It

An estimated 37.5% of people in the legal profession are sleep deprived (CDC, 2014). Many firms offer 24/7 calls or consultations, which can result in a disrupted or simply nonexistent sleep schedule. Regardless, those in the legal profession should adopt proper sleep hygiene habits, including:

Creating a sleep conducive environment. Sleep in a cool, dark, quiet room.

Avoid blue light before bed. While you may pride yourself on being quick to answer client phone calls or emails, you should implement quiet hours where you are not expected to reply right away. The blue light exposure is interfering with your sleep quality.

Cut out caffeine by mid-afternoon. If you need an afternoon or evening “pick me up,” consider natural methods rather than caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea, and energy drinks.

Victoria Wildhorn, Sleep Health Content Specialist MattressClarity.com

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