"I need to finish this brief by tomorrow. I can get by on a few hours of sleep." Except not really. Getting a good night's sleep can affect your performance as a lawyer -- and your practice.
It's easy for us to rationalize sleep as something that's optional, but in reality, it's incredibly important. For the sake of your job, don't skimp on sleep!
You Are Getting ... Cognitively Impaired
Sleep doesn't really rest your body; it rests your brain, which has spent the entire day coping with the non-stop barrage of stimuli that is life. Sleep is the brain's chance to turn off for a while. This is why failing to get enough sleep results in cognitive, not physical problems.
And cognitive issues build up over time. A person who gets only four or five hours of sleep a night for four or five days will "develop the same level of cognitive impairment as if they'd been awake for 24 hours -- equivalent to legal drunkenness," cautions Harvard Business Review.
And it only gets worse from there. After ten days of minimal sleep, it's as though you hadn't slept for two straight days. Because the legal profession is a very brain-oriented one, obviously running on fumes is going to affect your ability to reason, and if you're in the midst of a trial, you might end up missing a lot of what's going on. (And you don't want to be That Guy who's caught sleeping during a trial -- even if that doesn't amount to ineffective assistance.)
There's No Time! There's Never Any Time!
For the harried attorney who feels like he has to stay up late to finish all his projects, the answer is better time management. Sleep is negotiable -- but to a point. If you find yourself staying up later and later, it's probably time to cut back on your workload or hire more staff to help you out.
One of our cognitive fallacies as humans is overestimating our own capabilities. We'd all like to think we're autodidacts like Bill Gates, but statistically, it's incredibly unlikely that any of us is (and if you were, you'd definitely know it). It's the same way with sleep: Hearing the stories of Thomas Edison getting by on naps during the day, we think, "Hey, I can do it, too!"
But probably not. You're not superhuman and you don't want to risk spoiling a client matter that you could have easily won if you'd been more aware of what's going on. Is it really worth a potential malpractice suit?
It's not: So get some sleep.