Good Night, Sleep Tight, Don’t Let the Stress and Anxiety Bite

By: Morgan Schroeder, Spring 2019 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Intern

As law students, it would be safe to say that all of us have had experience with not getting enough sleep. It is well known that adults should get between seven to nine hours of sleep every night. But many times we have to stay up later to finish an assignment by a deadline or read for class. And sometimes, stress and anxiety about an upcoming exam can keep you up or wake you up in the middle of the night. We’ll sleep in on the weekend, “catch up on some sleep,” and then start the process all over again when the workweek starts back up.

Many times, sleep deprivation and anxiety go hand in hand. The less you sleep, the more anxious you are, and the move anxious you are, the less you sleep. But depriving the body of sleep for long period of times, such as during finals season, can result in more than just anxiety; it can cause serious side effects to your health. There are some side effects that can be very damaging to one’s performance in the legal profession, as well as in everyday life.

One of the side effects of sleep deprivation is the slowing down of the brain’s cognitive processes. Sleep plays a large role in thinking and learning, and not giving the brain the sleep it needs can impair attention, concentration, and problem solving. Additionally, if you don’t sleep long enough for your body to go through the sleep cycle, the brain cannot consolidate memories, and you won’t be able to remember what you learned or experienced that day. For a law student, this means you may not remember an important fact for a final, or you may not be able to help a client through their legal issue in a clinic class.

Another significant side effect is weight gain. When the body doesn’t get enough sleep, it creates less of the peptide that suppresses appetite, and produces more of the peptide that stimulates hunger. And the hunger stimulated is typically for high-fat and high-carbohydrate foods. Those who get less than six hours of sleep a night are 30% more likely to experience significant weight gain than those who sleep the recommended seven to nine hours.

Additionally, sleep deprivation impairs judgment, especially judgment about amount of sleep. Sleep-deprived people have a tendency to think that they are functioning fine with the amount of sleep they are getting, but in reality, the body doesn’t really “get used to” the lack of sleep. Instead, people who consistently get six hours of sleep or less perform worse on tests of mental alertness and performance, and the performance gets worse as the lack of sleep continues. The ability to exercise good judgment is imperative as an attorney, and is something clients depend on.

No amount of coffee can make up for the benefits that sleep gives the body. So while it is easier said than done, give yourself plenty of time to work on your assignments and don’t wait to study until the night before an exam. Get a good night of sleep every once in awhile, and sleep tight, don’t let the stress and anxiety bite.