When it comes to sleep we are often our own worst enemies. There are so many different, creative ways that we get in our own way. That could be by staying up late to watch "just one more episode" of that show you've been watching -- even if it rarely is just one more. It could be that you're an
expert at procrastinating with pointless games on your phone.
There's the gamers of the world who love to convince themselves that it'll just be five more minutes, multiple times before eventually crawling into bed shortly before sunrise, knowing they will regret it in the morning. And then there's those nights where we get lost in a rabbit hole on YouTube or wikipedia that starts with looking up a question about King Henry VIII, and somehow leads on to discovering that there are human cyclists using echolocation (like bats and dolphins) to find their way around.
(Seriously, google it -- but not at bedtime).
Maybe you've experienced one of those many examples of sleep procrastination. Or maybe you've witnessed a child taking it to expert levels with their pointless questions at bedtime, and suddenly needing a drink an hour after they should have been in bed? So what makes us put it off for so long? What stops us embracing bedtime and how do we change this?
It makes sense to start by exploring WHY we do this in order to better understand it, so that we can find the solution. The first thing to note is that it is absolutely 'normal' to experience this. There may be a number of different causes but you are definitely not alone, and you are not 'broken'. It's a standard part of human behaviour when we are young, and incredibly common to experience it again in adulthood.
Technology has a huge part to play in this behaviour. Spending time at night looking at screens, in itself encourages our brain to want to do more of them same. The constantly changing pixels and the effect of the blue light all encourage our brain to be more active. This leads to more looking at screens and so the loop continues.
Tip: Set an alarm as a reminder to switch off notifications and leave your phone alone in the run
up to bed.
Social (and other) Media
Along with the technology itself, the apps we use are all designed to feed our desires as humans so that we use them more. Facebook want's you to keep using Facebook, TikTok wants you to keep scrolling, Tinder wants you to keep swiping and let's not even mention some of the other popular websites on the internet. These apps are all designed, with human behaviour in mind, to keep you hooked and engaged.
Tip: put your phone down on the other side of the room before you get into bed.
Too Busy To Sleep
Work pressure, personal to-do lists and not enough hours in the day. Sleep sometimes feels like a
necessary evil that we don't want to have to make time for. As if it's this thing which just sucks away our time which could be better spent working on all the other areas of life, that we want to devote more time to. Particularly if we don't manage stress well through the day. Of course, we would actually be more productive and work more efficiently if we did prioritise sleep but reason and logic aren't always at their best late at night with a looming deadline.
Tip: Sleep makes you more productive. DECIDE to prioritise it.
Fear Of Missing Out has a role to play in sleep procrastination too. In this day and age, with 24 hour access to much, if not all, of what we want and the connected age where there is always someone we can connect with or something we can engage with.
Tip: Longer fun isn't always more fun, you can end the night earlier and still have great positive memories and staying up late also means missing out -- missing out on valuable sleep, rest and
It's surprising how many people have strong negative associations with sleep. This plays a role in encouraging procrastination without even acknowledging that there's a reason for it. It could be as simple as not wanting to go to bed because you associate bedtime with being uncomfortable, tossing and turning rather than sleeping. It could be that going to bed was seen as a punishment
when you were younger and you're still holding on to that now. It could even be a more serious
association like relating sleep with past trauma such as abuse (if this is the case, please do get in
touch -- it doesn't have to be this way).
Tip: Decide instead to enjoy the process of going to bed. Do something different to create a new
association and focus on the relaxation in bed rather than the 'battle' of getting to sleep.
Sometimes staying up late is about control over yourself and your own time. Again, this can be learned from childhood or it can become a way of coping with having less control of your own time as an adult. For example, when people have children they may stay up late as it feels like the only time they have exclusively for themselves. It may be that you're in a relationship and don't get enough time for you without your partner -- this was especially true during lockdown.
Tip: find a way to build in 'you' time that doesn't require staying up so late and disrupting sleep.
Sometimes people put off going to bed as a way of holding themselves back. It may be a collection of the reasons above being used as excuses, where the reality is that sometimes we don't feel we deserve to look after ourselves properly.
Tip: recognise it for what it is and give yourself the permission to sleep. If you need more help with
self sabotage, get in touch.
Taking the time to question what stops you sleeping and explore the reason behind it can provide a positive solution in itself. Realising how you think about sleep and recognising that it's actually a really key part of self care may help you to make different choices.
A little planning can also be a powerful thing. Deciding in advance, when you have more energy and clarity to make healthier choices, to change your habits can make it easier to make that change a reality. Set an alarm to remind you about bedtime. Use apps that force your phone into do not disturb mode or even block out social media apps at certain times. Take action NOW to create a better future.