Stop Bedtime Procrastination for Good
Hard truth: You're not actually treating yourself by staying up late to chill. Rest assured, here's how to get me time and Zs.
It's Friday and you've just had another full-on week, the kind where you haven't so much as turned on your TV or opened a book since Sunday. You get cosy on the couch and queue up the latest must-watch show, and before you know it, it's past midnight. "Still watching?" the TV asks you. To which you roll your eyes. Obviously.
This is classic bedtime procrastination—also called revenge relaxation, or staying up to do next to nothing in order to reclaim your free time. And while it might feel like exactly what you need, it's probably doing you more harm than good.
Why Sleep Takes the Fall
Most of us have over-scheduled lives, says Jennifer Martin, PhD, a clinical psychologist and behavioural sleep medicine specialist, professor of medicine at UCLA and Nike Performance Council member. And people often sacrifice sleep for me time, especially when they don't live alone, she says. Since the pandemic began, with the lines between work, school and home more blurred than ever, nighttime is probably the only time you have to do whatever the heck you want, right? You tell yourself "just one more" (episode, hour of scrolling etc.). The next thing you know, it's 2am, and you have to be up at 7am.
"When people are sleepy, they don't always make great decisions", says Martin. And it's a vicious cycle, because when you decide to stay up late, you're even more tired the next day, says Martin, upping the chances that this will become a habit.
We probably don't need to remind you that not logging the recommended seven to nine hours of nightly shut-eye can affect how you think and feel during your waking hours. But we will.
"You could be groggy and notice that you're not concentrating or remembering things as well", says Keisha Sullivan, DO, a sleep medicine specialist. Emotionally, you may be moody and irritable. Physically, a lack of solid sleep leaves your body stressed out, causing you to release more cortisol (a stress hormone), which can weaken your immune system, making you more likely to get sick, says Sullivan. And those are just the short-term consequences.
"When people are sleepy, they don't always make great decisions".
PhD, Nike Performance Council Member
Got your attention? Great. Now that you're aware of the pitfalls of bedtime procrastination, all you need to take back the power is this advice.
- Change your mindset.
In order to quit putting off bedtime, you have to stop thinking of staying up to relax as "treating yourself" and instead think of sleep as the ultimate treat, says Martin. It's sort of like your post-workout snack: Rewarding yourself with a brownie might be instantly gratifying, but a protein-packed smoothie tastes good and supports your long-term wellness goals.
- Reach a compromise with yourself.
Part of you wants to stay up into the wee hours finishing a season of the latest true-crime show. The other wants to tuck in early because you feel your best on a good night's rest. Your move is to meet in the middle.
That happy place, according to both Martin and Sullivan, is staying up no more than an hour past your usual bedtime (that's the time that gets you those seven-plus hours of Zs). Flexing beyond that, even just once a week, can disrupt your sleep schedule. To maintain as much consistency as possible, stick with your regular alarm, says Sullivan, as changing both your bedtime and outta-bed time can throw your internal clock out of whack.
If you have to, take action to make sure you cut yourself off after an hour, says Martin. Put a sleep timer on your TV, slide a pre-emptive bookmark into whatever you're reading and/or set an alarm for bed (and don't hit snooze).
- Front-load your fun.
Be honest about how much time you need for just yourself, whether it's one hour a day or one day a week, says Martin. Then schedule it first thing in the morning, midday or earlier in the evening, breaking it up into smaller stints if need be. This way you'll feel less in need of downtime at night.
Got a partner and kids? Negotiate an hour-long or day-long swap with your person, suggests Martin. That way you each get a chance to kick back (or exercise, or get a haircut, or whatever you need to feel better about yourself) while the other takes care of business.
- Don't sleep in at the weekend.
By prioritising bedtime during the week instead of procrastinating, you might find that you don't need as much sleep at the weekend, says Martin. That's because maintaining a regular sleep schedule keeps your internal body clock in check, which should make it easier to wake up refreshed every day. Plus, solid sleep typically leads to more energy, motivation and less stress.
In other words: You should be better equipped to tackle work, school, housework and time-sucking projects more quickly, freeing up more time for all of the fun stuff you were missing out on, explains Martin.
It's pretty ironic when you think about it: Sleep is exactly what you need to live a fuller life.
Words: Ronnie Howard
Illustration: Jon Krause