Just as we procrastinate when it comes to work, exercise, or other activities, we are probably also procrastinating when it’s time to go to bed.
A June 2014 study published by researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands found that the 177 participants typically experienced moderate levels of “bedtime procrastination,” defined as going to bed later than intended even though there are no external circumstances accountable for doing so. Thirty percent of the sample reported sleeping six hours or less on weeknights–significantly less than the seven to nine hours the National Sleep Foundation recommends for the average adult–even though 84% reported feeling that they slept too little at least once a week.
“Part of the problem is that we get sucked into the things we are doing in the evening because the things we’re doing these days are kind of addictive,” says New York City psychologist Janet K. Kennedy, who provides sleep improvement consulting and cognitive behavioral therapy for sleep issues.
Kennedy says our 24/7 work culture, technology, and social media are big culprits contributing to bedtime procrastination. They take up a great deal of time and are “mind deadening, in that you don’t realize how much time you’re wasting while you’re doing it,” she says.
So, how do we pry ourselves away from temptation and get to bed? It requires willingness, willpower, and good habits.
First, you need to understand what’s taking you away from sleep, says Nancy H. Rothstein, self-named “The Sleep Ambassador,” and director of corporate sleep programs for workplace performance company Circadian. Look at what you’re doing instead of going to bed and think about why you’re doing it, she says. If you’re constantly playing catch-up, try to look at the areas where you’re falling behind and take steps to rectify them.
For example, if you’re in the habit of paying bills or cleaning the house right before you go to bed, schedule those activities for a specific day of the week or assign certain tasks for certain days. That gives you permission to not to do them right before bedtime.
Assigning yourself a random sleep time isn’t always the best idea, Kennedy says. In addition to the problems related to going to bed too late and not getting enough sleep, if you go to bed too early, you may have trouble falling or staying asleep.
Observe yourself as you get varying amounts of sleep. Are you raring to go after six hours or do you need eight just to function well? Then, work backward to find your ideal sleep time, starting with your wake time. Do you get up at 5 a.m. to go to the gym? Do you work flex hours that let you sleep until 8 a.m.? Use your own circumstances and needs to determine your best sleep situation.
Instead, create a “bedtime window,” of about an hour or so, so you’re not pressuring yourself unnecessarily. “All is not lost if you don’t hit the sheets at the exact time every night. In fact, pressuring yourself to sleep on command at a specific time can lead to insomnia,” Kennedy says.
Whether it’s binge-watching the new season of House of Cards or taking the umpteenth “What Leader Were You in a Past Life” quiz on Facebook, technology can be a big contributor to sleep procrastination. It’s no surprise that a February 2015 study by researchers in Norway found a strong correlation between use of electronic devices and sleep deprivation in adolescents. The Utrecht University study found that people who aren’t good at self-regulation were more likely to procrastinate at bedtime. So, set a time to power-down devices and stick to it as much as possible, Rothstein says.
Getting into a bedtime routine won’t automatically make you sleepy, but having rituals can help foster better sleep habits, Rothstein says. Power down devices after a specific time. Change into your pajamas. Choose the activities that are most relaxing to you. Those may include a warm beverage, a bath, reading, journaling, or calming music.
“You also have to know how much time you need to get ready for sleep,” Rothstein says. Some people take longer than others. She sets an alarm to remind her when it’s time to start getting ready for bed.
But don’t take bedtime rituals to the extreme, Kennedy warns. It’s possible to get too caught up in the prescribed routine and find yourself unable to sleep if you don’t have your aromatherapy machine, for example, she says.
Sleep is never going to be a perfect practice, so stop berating yourself for not being able to snooze on command, Kennedy says. The best thing you can do is keep examining what works for you, and practice it.
“When you lie there and start all of this, ‘I’m going to feel so horrible tomorrow,’ ‘It’s going to be awful,’ you’re just creating a stress response that makes the problem worse,” she says.