Recovering Lawyer, Singed by Lack of Sleep

So yeah, I preach a lot here about the basics of taking care of yourself, such as getting enough sleep. I mostly take my own advice on this one, and make getting sleep a higher priority than answering emails, doing dishes and such. But even though I’m now a recovering lawyer and not an unhappy, practicing lawyer, I still screw up on the basics occasionally.

Close view of bonfire

Ignore the basics, like sleep, and watch yourself make some hair-on-fire decisions, unhappy lawyers.

And screwing up the basics can land you in a really dangerous place, as I got reminded rather sharply in the end. Like yesterday.

I had 2 kids’ art classes to teach on Thursday morning, and so naturally I spent time Wednesday afternoon designing a flyer for the coaching business rather than preparing for the classes. (Yeah, ‘doh!) I knew better, but I chose the flyer anyway, because it was the first time I’d had enthusiasm for it in a while. This was sign #1 that I was setting myself up: I did semi-tedious work rather than important work because the important work, teaching art, was feeling scary. I hadn’t taught these classes before, and I knew I had bugs to work out but wasn’t sure how to.

I did go to the craft store to get stuff for the class, but (mistake #2) I took the 7 year-old with me. He was particularly wiggly and unfocused, and I didn’t have a physical list, just the one in my head. I know better. And, we were time-limited because we had to be home at 5 pm for the world’s most important TV show, Wild Kratts.

Naturally, I forgot something crucial at the craft store, and had to return after dinner. The upshot of all this was that by 11pm, I was nearly done with the class prep. But then, my blood sugar decided to drop to a whopping 46. For those who don’t have a Type 1 diabetic in your life, that’s a damn low blood sugar. And it’s exhausting, and makes me need even more sleep than usual to recover from the shock to the nervous system. Yet instead of my usual 8+ hours of sleep, I got 6.

Sleep Deprivation: Brutish and Nasty

So I got up the morning of classes pretty tired. I was snappy, irritable and ill-tempered, just the kind of person you want teaching kids art, right?

Not enough sleep creates those effects, study after endless study shows. Moodiness, dulled intelligence, critical attitude, impatience—all thoroughly documented effects of sleep deficit and sleep deprivation.

Though I also think that your default settings, the nasty, unhelpful ones you’ve worked so hard in therapy and coaching to replace and upgrade, tend to reboot themselves more easily when you haven’t gotten enough sleep.

At this point, you may want to reflect on the connection between the vast number of sleep-deprived lawyers and their general irritability and brittleness. Or, on the similar atmosphere in many legal environments.

After a fairly staggering amount of caffeine (mistake #3), I regained enough composure to leave the house and teach small children without biting their heads off. I even refrained from biting my own head off when I thought I had left supplies at home, when I got off schedule, when one of the projects wasn’t working right because I hadn’t tested the particular version of it beforehand, etc.

I even took care of myself afterward, and delighted my 7 year-old, by letting him watch PBS Kids while I took a bit of a nap.

You know, of course, the story doesn’t end happily there, or this would be a boring post.

Fire and Fatigue Don’t Mix, As It Turns Out

I had decided the day before that I wanted to grill chicken for dinner, using the old family marinade recipe. We always had a grill when I was growing up, and my sisters have also had them for years, but not me. Not me, the biggest carnivore in the family. Until a couple weeks ago, anyway, when I put my toe in the water and bought a cheap charcoal grill. On my first grilling attempt, with a slightly experienced lawyer friend assisting, I grilled some steaks, and it went swimmingly.

I thought I was up to the task of grilling chicken, naturally. After all, my dad generally had grilled stuff with beer #2 or #5 in one hand and tongs in the other, and he never went to the ER except when he had a heart attack.

There was a warning on the grill instructions about grilling and drinking. Or rather, about not doing it. There should have been a warning not to run a sleep deficit and grill. (You heard it here first. Lawyers, unhappy or otherwise, hop to it!)

I totally forgot about the studies saying that losing an night’s sleep can make you function at the same level as if your blood alcohol level was .05%. (So I lost half a night’s sleep. Maybe I was at .025%. Much better, right?) I also didn’t compute that my dad treated the butter-based “marinade” more like a sauce. As in, he didn’t soak the chicken in it beforehand, and then have tons of the “marinade” drip on the hot coals and catch fire and cause 2-foot high leaping flames.

And as dysfunctional as he was, I also don’t remember him asking me, urgently, “Is my hair on fire?” Which, oh yes, I did ask the 7 year-old, who had come out to watch the great grilling event.

So I lost 3 inches of bangs, a little bit of inner eyebrow, and the ends of my eyelashes (which had been hiding behind my glasses) to sleep deprivation.

And I feel damn lucky about it. No awful burns to the face, no house on fire, no trauma permanently etched on my son’s memory. Just some smelly singed hair and a $35 hair cut to put things right. Well, we also had to wait another 45 minutes for the chicken to cook inside in the nice, safe oven.

We make really dumb decisions when we don’t get enough sleep. If you’re not getting enough sleep, I wonder what your dumb decisions are? Is staying in law when you hate it one of them? Just thought I’d ask.

Go sleep on it and let me know.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who is renewing her commitment to a good night’s sleep. She helps unhappy attorneys pay attention to the basics, like sleep, so they can make great decisions about where their career path needs to go next. If you need help getting back to your basics, schedule a discounted sample session by emailing Oh, and safe grilling to you all!

5 thoughts on “Recovering Lawyer, Singed by Lack of Sleep

  1. OMG, hilarious! I grew up with electric ranges and stoves, so when I met my husband and first lit his old gas stove (to warm up Pop Tarts) – uh, yeah, lost some hair too. Nice aroma.

    I can’t believe that I showed up at a client’s office in 2007 after not sleeping for 72 hours to do due diligence. Thankfully I took a box of docs, said that I needed to copy them, and left to get a burrito bowl and go to the doc for some happy sleep pills. Ugh.

  2. This was one of your better posts. I like the actual life experience stories.

    I destabilize pretty rapidly with the combination of extreme stress plus little sleep, so it’s very important for me to get enough sleep.

    I could never do 72 hours of no sleep. After 36 hours (in college), I noticed that things started to get very shiny.

    The worse I’ve ever done to myself was to allow a firecracker kind of blow up in my hand. Fortunately, it was a small fire cracker and I was in the process of throwing it. And yes, that incident involved beer. Did you know that if you properly explode a firecracker in your hand, some of the skin hardens and gets kind of crispy? Not a third degree burn. No blisters. Hard and crispy.

  3. Pingback: Bonuses = Toxic Law Firms, Pt. 2: The Billable Road To Hell « Leaving the Law

  4. Pingback: Instrinsic Motivation for Lawyers: All in One Place « Leaving the Law

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