Law is the second most sleep-deprived profession, according
to a 2012 survey in America. In the UK, GPs see countless lawyers experiencing 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
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
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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