Is something stopping you from getting the sleep you know you need?
Do you find yourself exhausted each morning, desperately snoozing your alarm until the last minute? And yet, in the evenings, you can’t say no to watching just one more episode, or scrolling through social media once you’ve finally crawled into bed? Well, you wouldn’t be the only one entering into this punishing cycle.
‘Revenge bedtime procrastination’ is the phenomenon where people stay up later than they should, in an attempt to take back control over the night, because they feel as though they lack control over their days – and I’ve worked with many clients displaying this behaviour. Despite successful time management in other areas of their lives, these clients chose to delay bedtime; staying up much later than they should for no significant reason, and feeling dreadful as a knock-on effect the next day.
Consciously or subconsciously, we perform non-crucial activities, such as scrolling through social media or binge-watching TV dramas, in an attempt to find some downtime after a busy day. However, the consequences are significant. Without sufficient sleep, many find they are less than productive the next day, developing a ‘sleep debt’, which can reduce the functioning of the immune system. On top of that, some clients feel angry at themselves for staying up so late unnecessarily.
So, why do people choose to delay bedtime, knowing they are going to feel worse the next day? Well, there are several reasons, and if you want to stop this habit it’s worth noticing what is driving your own behaviour. Here, we’ll run through the four main causes and, importantly, what you can do to take back control.
1. Short-term focus
Some people focus more on the immediate positive gains of a situation, rather than the longer-term consequences – such as having the second dessert when we know we may feel unwell later, or drinking more alcohol than we should when we know we have an important meeting the next day. The solution? Notice when you are doing this – become more aware of your own behaviours. Write a list of the short-term benefits (enjoying chilling watching TV until late) versus the long term consequences of this choice (feeling exhausted the next day). Put this list on the fridge. Next time you want to stay up late, look at the list and make a conscious choice to focus on the longer-term, more rewarding behaviour of getting enough sleep.
2. Painful emotions arising
Some people find lying in bed can bring sad thoughts and worries to the surface. Delaying bedtime, and filling your head with movies and Instagram images, can be a form of escape from these painful emotions. The solution? Again, recognise you are doing this. Ask yourself, “What am I worried about?” Make a list of these worries, and follow up the next day with practical ways you can address these concerns – for example, speaking to a friend, family member, or professional. If you want something positive to occupy your mind as you fall asleep, try a meditation app, or an audiobook instead.
3. Physical lack of tiredness
Most people naturally have a melatonin release around 10pm, which makes us feel sleepy. If you’re busy and active during this release, then you are likely to become wide awake again after 10.30pm. The next release is not until around midnight. So, you have to physically push through bedtime, and the consequence is we start to wake up again.
The best thing you can do is to try to wind down with a bedtime routine around 9pm. Make sure you’re in bed around 10pm, so that when the 10pm sleepiness arrives, you are more likely to fall asleep when the melatonin hits.
Another reason you procrastinate in the evenings could be that you are overscheduled during the day – you need downtime! But taking sleep away to find this downtime is going to eventually cause more problems than benefits. This time can be carved out in small micro-rests during the day. For example, before you pick the children up from school, try to arrive five minutes earlier. Sit in the car and do just a couple of minutes of slow breathing meditation. Or sit in the toilet at work and do slow breathing for two minutes. An interesting approach is suggested by the Aboriginal culture in Australia – their tradition is to stop on the hour, every hour, for one minute, to be still. Try it! It’s only taking 15 minutes out from the whole day, yet it’s creating little micro-pockets of rest, enabling the mind to calm down.
As with most things, the key to changing our behaviour is about tuning-in to what’s going on below the surface, and creating a plan to move forward. And when it comes to revenge bedtime procrastination, sleep easy with the reassurance that with self-knowledge and self-care you can start on a journey to put this habit to bed, for good.
To connect with a counsellor like Dr Abigail Pamich to discuss your bedtime routine, visit counselling-directory.org.uk