A lot of attorneys have shared their stories with me since I started writing here about issues related to attorney mental health. There are two things I hear the most:

  • practice-related anxiety is common–maybe even prevalent–but it’s not something lawyers like to admit to experiencing;
  • lawyers have sleep problems.

The sleep problems that I hear about fall into two categories: (1) trouble going to sleep; and (2) trouble staying a sleep.

Personally, I rarely have trouble falling asleep. But I usually don’t sleep through the night. A lot of attorneys tell me that they have the same problem.

One interesting facet of the problem is that it seems to be common for attorneys to wake up in the middle of the night at the same time most nights. That seems weird. You wake up at the same time in the middle of the night no matter what time you went to bed? What a weirdo. I’m describing myself, by the way.  awake

My current wrong wake up time is 1:30 a.m. Waking up at 1:30 a.m. is a problem because I don’t take Ambien after midnight. Ambien is useful for getting to sleep, particularly when I travel with my near phobia over hotel rooms (they are, without exception, filthy-remind me to blog on that later).

Being exhausted often doesn’t help. I have trouble sleeping for days after a trial–win or lose.

Unfortunately, Ambien is not great for keeping me asleep all night. And I don’t like Ambien. Ambien sleep doesn’t seem normal. I usually don’t dream when I take Ambien. That concerns me. I dream a lot when I’m not on Ambien. And never about the law–thank God. With Ambien I also don’t wake-up feeling as rejuvenated as with non-drug induced sleep.

Some people say Ambien makes them groggy the next morning. Some lawyers take Valium or Xanax to help them sleep. I’ve tried it. It makes me groggy the next morning.

Be careful with the Ambien though. It makes some people do some really goofy things (call people, eat everything in the fridge, go for a drive) and not remember it the next day.

Sometimes, I’ll have a snack and can get back to sleep in a half hour or so. Sometimes I watch TV and am awake for two hours. I can usually tell which it will be based on how awake I feel when I wake up.

My current favorite middle of the night TV show is ABC News World Now, which starts at 2:05 a.m. It’s more laid back than normal network news with a young, funny anchor duo. They act how you would expect anchors to act if they thought no one was watching.

Some lawyers put themselves back to sleep by having a drink(s). That doesn’t work for me–the thought of alcohol in the middle of the night is unappealing. Not that I like the fact that sometimes I eat just to try to make myself sleepy. If I do that a few times a week, that’s a lot of middle of the night calories over the course of a year.

I was on the shelf for four weeks last month recovering from hip replacement surgery. I slept great until a few days before I went back to work. Just the thought of starting back ruined my sleep.

Most of the lawyers I talk to are in private practice. I wonder how much trouble sleeping in-house and government lawyers have? On one hand, they experience some of the same uncertainty and anxiety producing experiences as private practice attorneys. But on the other hand they probably aren’t as worried about where the next case will come from.

So what’s the secret for good sleep for attorneys? Retirement. But until you can retire, you have to manage it the best you can.

My only piece of advice if you have sleep problems is to consider it normal. If you consider it normal, you are less likely to let it frustrate you.