Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : March 2011



Sleep is vital to your health and wellbeing. Studies have shown that not getting enough sleep can cause you to feel tired and sluggish the next day, and can hinder your ability to concentrate. A lack of sleep can make it difficult to focus, and it can affect memory, judgment and reactions, as well as other functions. If sleep-deprivation continues, it can lead to more serious conditions such as mood swings, anxiety, depression and other mental health problems. Studies have shown that sleep helps the body’s neurons repair themselves, which allows the body to recharge.

How Much Sleep Do We Need?

Age plays a large part in how much sleep one requires. Everyone’s need for sleep is different, but on average, an adult needs seven to eight hours each night. Some can go with as few as five, while some require as much as 10 hours a night.  Infants need, on average, 16 hours, while teenagers require nine hours a night.

How Do You Know if

You are Sleep-Deprived?

Sleep experts say you haven’t had enough sleep if you feel tired and drowsy during the day, even when involved in boring activities. If you typically fall asleep five minutes after lying down, you may have severe sleep deprivation, possibly even a sleep disorder.

Tips to Help You Get a Better Night’s Sleep
[Adapted from “When You Can’t Sleep: The ABCs of ZZZs,” by the National Sleep Foundation.]

Stick to a sleep schedule:
- Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning.
- Changing your sleep schedule disrupts your sleep cycle and can lead to insomnia.

Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol:
- Avoid caffeinated drinks and food. Sources of caffeine include coffee, tea, chocolate, soft drinks, diet drugs, “energy” drinks and some pain relievers. Caffeine is a stimulant and can keep you awake.
- Individuals who smoke often sleep very lightly and wake up early in the morning due to nicotine withdrawal.
- Alcohol can help you fall asleep, but the quality of your sleep is affected. Alcohol keeps the body from deep sleep and rapid eye movement (REM). It keeps the body in the lightest stages of sleep and you often can wake up feeling tired and sluggish.

- Daily exercise for 20 to 30 minutes helps you sleep.
- Exercising too close to bedtime can interfere with your sleep. Try to finish exercisinge at least five to six hours prior to going to bed. 

Control room temperature:
- A room that is too hot or too cold can interfere with falling asleep and staying asleep.

Relax before bed:
- Read, take a warm bath, meditate or find another relaxing routine to help you fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Learn how to do deep breathing and progressive relaxation. Both techniques can help you relax and fall asleep (see exercises below).

Don’t lay in bed awake:
- If initially you can’t fall asleep, don’t stay in bed. Worrying about not being able to sleep can cause anxiety and keep you awake. Get out of bed and do something until you are tired, such as listening to music, reading or watching TV.

- If you wake up after being asleep and can’t go back to sleep, get out of bed, but don’t turn on the lights, TV or computer; these will only send the message to your body to wake up. Staying in bed tossing and turning and getting upset that you can’t sleep only will make you more anxious and keep you awake. Instead, try sitting quietly and doing deep breathing, progressive relaxation or meditation.

Sleep until sunlight. If possible, wake up with the sun, or use very bright lights in the morning. Sunlight helps the body’s internal biological clock reset itself each day. Sleep experts recommend exposure to an hour of morning sunlight for people having problems falling asleep.

See a doctor if you’re sleeping difficulties continues. If you have problems falling asleep night after night or wake up frequently and feel tired the next day, you may have a sleep disorder and should call your doctor. Start with your primary care physician, who can recommend a specialist if necessary. Most sleep disorders can be treated so you can get the sleep that you need.

Deep Breathing Exercise

Deep breathing is a simple relaxation technique. Deep breathing releases stress from the body and clears the mind, improving both physical and mental wellness.

Sit up straight or lie down on your back;

Exhale completely through your mouth;

Place your hands on your stomach;

Breathe in slowly through your nose, pushing your hands out with your stomach (imagine that you are filling your body with air from the bottom up);

Hold your breath for three to five seconds, and slowly exhale through your mouth or nose.

Once you get used to deep breathing, you don’t have to use your hands to check your breathing.

Progressive Relaxation

Progressive relaxation is a technique for reducing anxiety by alternately tensing and relaxing your muscles. It is believed that you can reduce anxiety by learning how to relax muscular tension. Since many sleep problems are caused by an overactive mind or anxiety, progressive relaxation can help you fall asleep.

The technique involves tensing and relaxing muscle groups over the legs, abdomen, chest, arms and face;

While lying down on your back, start with your feet and work your way up to your head;

Tense each muscle group for five seconds and then release for 10 seconds before moving on to the next muscle group;

End by tensing your entire body for 10 seconds and then release;

You will probably fall asleep before you complete the exercise.

Call the MSBA Lawyer Assistance Program for free, confidential assistance at (410) 685-7878 or (800) 492-1964, ext. 3041.

Lisa Caplan, LCSW-C, CAC, is Program Counselor for the MSBA Lawyer Assistance Program.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: March 2011

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