Sleepless in Seattle: A Lawyer’s Occupational Hazard?

Debra L. Bruce, JD, PCC.

“If a man had as many ideas during the day as he does when he has insomnia, he’d make a fortune.” ~Griff Niblack

In my law practice I often began morning instructions to my staff with “In the middle of the night, I remembered that we need to . . . .” One day, my paralegal responded, “Don’t you ever sleep through the night?”

Taken aback, I stammered, “Uh…no. Do you?” I was surprised to learn that she usually did. Perhaps I thought waking in the middle of the night was an occupational hazard of working in a law firm. I had awakened for so many years that I forgot that some people don’t.

Waking is not really a problem, unless I can’t get back to sleep for hours. I appreciate my faithful spirit guide — or whatever it is — for the midnight alert that something is about to fall through the cracks or for gifting me with brilliant solutions to thorny problems. John Steinbeck said “It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.” I just wish The Committee would wait until morning to give me the good news. Who knows? Maybe the dark of night is the only time I am quiet enough to hear whispered answers or warnings. In any event, if I don’t get back to sleep until an hour before the alarm rings, I start the day in a fog and I’ll probably react irritably to someone by 3:00 p.m.

If this sounds too familiar, here are a few tips from an experienced wee-hour-waker that may help you get back to Snoozeville more quickly.

1. Keep pen and paper by the bed.

Sometimes I keep re-waking myself with a nagging brain loop: “Don’t forget to call Bob Smith. Don’t forget to call Bob Smith. Don’t forget to call Bob Smith.” I find that if I write it down, it appeases my Inner Worry Wart enough to allow me to sleep. I love the lighted pen that the State Bar of Texas hands out as a chotsky at the Annual Bar Conference. (See! Wee-hour-waking must be an occupational hazard for lawyers.) With that lighted pen I can jot a note that I can actually read the next morning, without waking my spouse by turning on the light. (Warning: The Inner Worry Wart may require several additions to the list before letting go for the night.)

2. Move to the sofa or another bed.

Sometimes we just need to thrash around until we find that comfortable position from which we can drift off. When we are afraid of disturbing our bedmate, we tend to lie tense and frozen – not a good formula for relaxing back to sleep. Besides, maybe it was your mate’s snoring that woke you up in the first place. 😉

3. Read something educational or spiritually nourishing.

Focusing in on one thing calms the “monkey mind,” easing the agitation that keeps you awake. I find that something that feeds my soul works for me. Another option is something educational. That can feed the Inner Taskmaster that thinks we always have to accomplish something, so it will relax and let us drift back to sleep. Caution: it’s best to avoid things that remind you of work or that are so intriguing or stimulating, that you stay awake to read more. Save your favorite mystery writer for another time.

4. Listen to an IPOD, IPhone, or MP3 Player.

You can do this easily without turning on the light, and program the device to turn itself off after half an hour, when you’ve dozed off. I listen to (i) soothing songs with interesting lyrics, (ii) non-fiction I have already read that has a message that I want to reinforce in my memory, or (iii) a guided meditation. By listening to something I’ve heard before, I don’t worry about missing something when I fall asleep. Once again, it is about bringing my mind to one focus without stimulating it too much.

5. Meditate.

I watch my breath as I breathe slowly and deeply. When thoughts intrude, I keep bringing my focus back to the mechanics of breath. Meditation requires stilling the mind, which doesn’t come easily to me. Trying to meditate, but giving myself permission to doze instead, tricks my mind into choosing sleep over spiritual awakening.

6. Pray.

I turn my focus from myself to other people. Instead of pleading to a distant deity, I visualize my prayer subjects happy and laughing, wrapped in divine love and protection, washed in healing radiance, or some other comforting image. As I give out those blessings, I receive the blessing of sleep.

7. Just do it.

Through the miracle of technology, I can get up and take care of that work that I am worried about getting done, even in the middle of the night. I am usually more efficient than during the day because I am inspired by the idea that came to me, or because there are no interruptions to break my concentration. Perhaps afterwards I can sleep late because I’ve already accomplished so much.

I invite you to share your getting back to sleep tips with me. Nothing works every time, so I welcome more ideas. In the meantime, “Sweet dreams!”

Reprinted with permission from the author’s article in the August 12, 2010 issue of The Legal Intelligencer. © 2010 Incisive Media US Properties, LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.


One Response to “Sleepless in Seattle: A Lawyer’s Occupational Hazard?”

  1. Relief for Stressed Out Lawyers and Law Students on June 3rd, 2014 8:32 am

    […] If you get through the daytime hours just fine, but bedtime is your problem, some of the apps described above can help, even in the middle of the night when you don’t want to turn on the light. Also, check out the blog post I wrote a while back, which contains some additional ideas for lawyers about getting to sleep. […]

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