I think by this point in your legal career (law school graduates and beyond), you all know how important sleep is for your body. Besides making you feel better, sleep has proven benefits such as improving your memory, focus, lowering stress (or aiding in your general ability to cope) and helping you to stay healthy. Your brain actually regenerates itself and creates new pathways for learning while you sleep and you can actually think and learn better when you are well rested. As soon as I became a parent, I became even more interested in what made for the best slumber. If my babies couldn’t sleep, then that meant my husband or I were awake. If they were asleep, then I could rest. Looking back, I don’t think I was ever really able to appreciate my sleep before I had children (and yes, that includes when I was studying in law school and for the bar exam). If I studied until 3 AM, then I was often able to compensate by sleeping in later. However, most of the tips I learned in mommy and me class can help all of us get some more sleep.
Since you are in law school, either finals or the bar exam are right around the corner so now’s the time to maximize your sleep. Here are some of the things I learned:
1. Evaluate Your Sleep Environment
Make sure that your bedroom is sleep – friendly.
Temperature: Are you fidgeting with the covers all night? Are you too hot or too cold? Experts say that the ideal temperature for sleep is between 60-70 degrees but experiment with the temperature and determine what makes you most comfortable.
Sound: Does your bedroom border an alley or busy street? Does your roommate like to listen to music or watch television with high volume when you are trying to fall asleep? Does your husband, wife, boyfriend or girlfriend snore? If so, then it might be a good time for your significant other to try a Breathe right strip or for you to hit the couch or guest room for a few weeks, or the night before an exam. No sound or white noise is best. Try a white noise app, earplugs, or invest in a sound machine to ensure that your bedroom stays quiet.
Dimmed or no light: You also can’t expect to fall asleep if the lights are on their highest level or if you can see bright street lights shining through your windows. Use blackout shades or a face mask. Light and dark are how your body regulates its circadian rhythm. Light delays the release of melatonin which helps you fall and stay asleep. Walking into a dim or dark room will help you fall asleep faster. (This also means that when it’s time to wake up you should make sure you are exposed to the light so you will wake up faster.)
2. Establish a Relaxing pre-bed Routine
Bedtime starts with bath time and a story or song for my children. Maybe your mom isn’t there to rub your back anymore, but you can make up your own relaxing bedtime routine. It might be a hot bath with scented candles. Soothing scents like lavender might help you relax before bed. Or try a cup of sleepy time tea, or a short meditation or breathing exercises.
3. Set a Consistent Sleep Schedule
Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day is how they teach us to get our babies to sleep consistently. This advice applies to adults too, because it prevents a sleep hangover and helps your body get used to falling asleep and waking up at the same time. If you are studying for the bar exam, I usually suggest to my students that they adjust their bodies to awake/sleep schedule consistent with the hours they will be taking the exam. This will ensure that your body is most awake for those exam sessions. I recommend adjusting your sleep schedule gradually (15 minutes every few days).
4. Nap Early, or Not At All
Naps are important for your brain and have been shown to improve cognitive function and help your brain recover from information overload or “burn out.” However, late naps, or too much napping, can interfere with your ability to fall asleep at night and actually make you more tired in the long run. So many parents would ask why their babies weren’t sleeping at night but would go on to say that their kid was napping for four hours during the day, or napping right before bedtime. So it wasn’t surprising they were sleeping less at night or having trouble falling asleep. As an adult, 15-20 minutes is all you need to regenerate. And make sure you are napping before 5:00.
5. Avoid Screen Time Close to Bedtime
Light, especially from computers, IPads, cell phones and televisions can also interfere with your circadian rhythm and tell your body that it is time to wake up. Just like it is not a good idea to put your child in front of a television or IPad right before bedtime, you should avoid screen time within an hour of bedtime. And if you are having trouble going to sleep, get out of bed and read a book, or put on some headphones and listen to soothing music.
Here’s to sleeping like a baby tonight.
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