Sleep procrastination – what it is and what to do about it

sleep procrastination

We all accept the difficulties of getting out of bed in the morning – the all too familiar impulse to hit the snooze button, the growing realization getting up can’t be put off anymore, and then the first steps across the cold floor. But what is less acknowledged is the difficulty that we have in getting ourselves into bed. It’s not just that it’s hard to actually fall asleep, but it’s that we won’t actually head off to the bedroom even when we know we need to or are already feeling tired. 

Just as we can procrastinate about work and exercise, we can just as regularly procrastinate about going to sleep.

What is sleep procrastination and who does it affect?

Sleep procrastination was first described in a 2014 study from the Netherlands. It was described as “going to bed later than intended while no external circumstances are accountable for doing so…” – so basically choosing to go to bed later without a practical reason for it.

I’m sure most of us can relate to the feeling of finishing work or study or parenting late in the evening, feeling tired and knowing that you should head to bed, but then opening a book or switching on Netflix and finding yourself in the same spot three hours later, now way past your bedtime. Despite knowing what would have been better for us the next day, we still end up staying up too late and being left sleep deprived the next day.

There are many varied reasons for why sleep procrastination may occur:

  • Parents who are busy with children through the day and desire some time to themselves of an evening
  • People whose jobs have long work hours
  • Teenage school students who have school sport and homework until late in the evening
  • And a recently emerging reason – working from home through lockdowns, when the lines between you work and your personal life are a little greyer than usual.

The common factor in all of these scenarios is that people are trying to claim back some “me” time, where they can make the choice of what they do, rather than having to fulfil someone else’s needs.

What to do about it

Sleep procrastination will obviously take a toll on your quality of sleep. Even if you don’t have to get up early the next day and you can sleep in, you may be lacking the hours of normal good quality deep sleep that is required to feel well rested. But generally we still need to get up the next morning at the same time as usual, so we have lost some important sleep time by staying up later than we need to.

One of the most prevalent reasons for sleep procrastination is that people don’t feel like they have enough time for themselves during the day. In this case, taking regular breaks from work or school, and then trying to do something for yourself in your breaks, can help you to feel a little more fulfilled at the end of the day. If you’re parenting, trying to find a way that you can carve out some grown-up interactions can also help with this.

When it comes to bedtime, remembering your tomorrow self in your decisions may help to keep you on track. Think of how you’ll feel in the morning when you wake up with only four hours sleep, rather than the short-term joy in the moment from staying up late.

And then keep in mind all the good sleep hygiene tips to get you to bed feeling tired, rather than still wired from the day:

  • Reduce the use of screens 30-60 minutes before bedtime and consider using blue light blockers during the evening
  • Read a book instead of scrolling or watching Netflix
  • No caffeine past 2pm, and no alcohol or sugary snacks too close to bedtime
  • Do some moderate exercise most days
  • You can also try some tips from Chinese medicine to help you get to sleep at a reasonable time

Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are also able to provide support for a healthy nights sleep. Learn more about how acupuncture can help with insomnia. If you would like to contact me, you can call me at the clinic on 03 8774 5588, or send a message.

Lachlan McDonald
Lachlan McDonald
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