It might be de rigueur in the legal profession, but overwork is not pretty. It can even be deadly. In Japan, “karoshi,” or death from overwork, claims anywhere from 200 to 10,000 workers annually. The problem is not unique to Japan. In the first global study to analyze the effects of working long hours on health, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) found that 745,000 people died in 2016 from stroke and ischemic heart disease as a direct result of having worked at least 55 hours a week.1 Working 55 or more hours per week translated to a 35 percent higher risk of a stroke and a 17 percent higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease than those who worked only 35 to 40 hours a week.
Why can it be dangerous to work exceedingly long hours? When you encounter stressful situations by working longer and harder, your muscles contract, your blood thickens, your heart pumps blood faster, and your arteries narrow. You’re prepared for fight or flight. If you actually did fight or flee, the situation would largely take care of itself.
Instead, your internal “engine” is revving for eight hours to 10 hours on end. You arrive home where more stressors might emerge. You cannot sleep as many hours as your body requires, or if you do, it’s fitful sleep with tossing and turning. As a result, you’re being worn down and your immune system is becoming weaker. Thus, you’re more susceptible to illness.
Some researchers believe that consistently having too little sleep could impact your whole life, to your detriment.2 Combined with too much work and too little sleep, any illness that you might contract can be more troublesome.
You feel tired, but when are you bordering on danger? Among many signs, here are a few:
1. Lack of appetite or indigestion. You normally look forward to meals, but when highly fatigued, you have trouble getting them down. Maybe, you’re eating less. Your fatigue is prolonged;
2. Extra sleep doesn’t help. Getting many nights of extra sleep in a row or sleeping for an entire weekend doesn’t seem to diminish your fatigue. Perhaps worse, you feel as if you’ll never catch up;
3. Excessive sleepiness. You doze at inopportune moments, such as during an important meeting, or when driving; and
4. Loss of sex drive. This isn’t obvious because decline in libido usually occurs a bit at a time and you don’t notice, although your partner likely will.
The Practical Lawyer
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