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How to Avoid the Bedtime Procrastination Trap

Welcome back to our regular series with certified sleep educator Terry Cralle, MS, RN. In this post, Cralle shares tips for conquering bedtime procrastination so you can get the sleep you need to perform your best.

Just one more email and I’ll log off, you tell yourself. But before you can say “retweet,” you’ve hopped over to your social media feeds for a final scroll, watched a couple of cute cat videos on Facebook, followed a link to a hot shoe sale, rechecked your email…and suddenly it’s after midnight—and you’re already dreading the 6 a.m. wake-up to get the kids to the bus stop and make it to work on time.

Sound familiar? If so, you’re experiencing the phenomenon known as “bedtime procrastination,” defined by researchers as “failing to go to bed at the intended time, while no external circumstances prevent a person from doing so.”

The bedtime procrastination trap

It is estimated that about 10% of adults in the general population are chronic procrastinators. Not surprisingly, procrastinators perform more poorly in several areas than their non-procrastinating counterparts, including work activities, academic achievements, and personal finances. In terms of health and wellness, procrastinators also tend to procrastinate on their bedtimes, resulting in poorer health outcomes and higher stress levels, not to mention all of the other nasty consequences of insufficient sleep.

2014 research published in Frontiers of Psychology, by researchers from Utrecht University in the Netherlands, addressed this interesting phenomenon. In a study of 177 people (who did not work a night shift or have a sleep disorder), insufficient sleep and lack of self-regulation were associated with those who voluntarily put off sleep. The researchers noted that study participants had weaker self-control and little mental energy—in other words, people who tend to have trouble sticking to their intentions (just one more email!) are also likely to have problems going to bed on time.

Tips for conquering bedtime procrastination

It’s no wonder that our 24/7, never-off society, with its temptations of continuous connectivity and entertainment, can seem far more exciting than “lights out.” But when it comes down to it, you have to consider the risk-benefit ratio, with the understanding that the risks of insufficient sleep clearly outweigh the pleasures to be had from staying up late binge-watching the latest Netflix series.

If you’re having trouble getting to bed at a decent hour, the following strategies may help:

  1. Set a bedtime. We do it for our children, why not for ourselves? Every family member needs a set bedtime to ensure they get the sleep they need. For adults, choose a bedtime window of an hour (maximum) as opposed to an “on-the-dot” bedtime.
  2. Use a bedtime alarm on your phone. If you find it too easy to get sucked into “just one more episode” of your favorite show, set a phone reminder to turn off the TV and hit the hay.
  3. Declare a media curfew. Unplug an hour before bedtime. The blue light from electronics is stimulating and will make you feel more alert. If you do need to go online late at night (let’s get real, it does happen), wear blue light blocking glasses. Use the Night Shift and Do Not Disturb functions on your phone. Control your devices—don’t let them control you.
  4. Remove all non-essential electronic devices from the bedroom. In a survey conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, one-fifth of respondents were woken up by their devices during the night, with half of the people picking them up and interrupting their sleep time.
  5. Establish a bedtime routine. Yes, even adults benefit from bedtime routines. They serve to help you transition your mind and body from wakefulness to sleep. Prepare for bed at the same time, following the same steps, in the same order every night. Incorporate something non-electronic that you look forward to, such as relaxing with a loved one, coloring, sketching, knitting, journaling, yoga, reading, a bubble bath, calming music, puzzles, catalog perusing, etc. (Here are five reasons to pick up a book before bed.)

The benefits of sufficient sleep

Research shows that bedtime procrastinators are people with problems with self-regulation—i.e., those who generally have trouble sticking to plans and not giving in to temptations. We know that sufficient sleep improves decision-making, outlook, motivation, problem-solving, and mood. Which could mean that bedtime procrastination not only causes sleep loss but could also be a direct effect of sleep loss.

Simply put: It’s a vicious cycle. So the next time you’re tempted to engage in some late-night web surfing or other non-essential activity, remember that the healthiest, most productive, and most worthwhile thing you can do is turn out the light and go to bed. There’ll be another shoe sale tomorrow.

More from Terry Cralle:

Terry Cralle, MS, RN, is a certified clinical sleep educator and Saatva's sleep consultant. She is the author of Snoozby and the Great Big Bedtime Battle, the first nonfiction book directly messaging the benefits of sufficient sleep to young children, and Sleeping Your Way to the Top, the ultimate guide to success through better sleep. A nationally recognized sleep health and wellness advocate, her work in the field of sleep medicine has ranged from patient care to clinical research and continuing education for nurses.