Is revenge bedtime procrastination ruining your sleep?

·6-min read
Is revenge bedtime procrastination ruining your sleep?

'There aren't enough hours in the day' is a common complaint we all vent at the water cooler but the reality of fitting everything in has sparked a new sleep deficit – revenge bedtime procrastination. We've all been there, replying to emails after dinner in front of Stranger Things because that meeting overran during the day, or frantically putting in a late night Amazon Prime order because we didn't get time to go shopping at the weekend. Life is busier than ever and juggling social obligations alongside a career, parent phone calls and the odd blow-dry appointment seems more impossible than ever.

One expert that's definitely noticed a shift in our unhealthy bedtime routines is Dr Lindsay Browning, psychologist, neuroscientist and sleep expert for luxury bed retailer And So To Bed. “Absolutely, I have experienced an increase in people finding it hard to go to bed at the right time at night because they feel that they need to have some time for themselves in the evening,” she says. An issue exasperated by the pandemic as the lines between work and home blurred, Browning is quick to warn that without hasty intervention, it could be a more permanent problem. “When you start getting into the habit of going to bed later than you need, your body and your circadian rhythm (your body's sleep/wake cycle) start to move when you feel sleepy a bit later making it harder to go to sleep earlier on the nights when you do want to go to bed early to catch up on sleep.”

Going to bed later than you planned is something we can all relate to (who remembers the early Big Brother days?). From binge-watching a box set to catching up on laundry, the ever-growing pressure to have our ducks in a row in all areas of our life is enough to derail the best laid intentions. Yet Browning also believes there's a certain rebellious streak to our nightly to-do list. “If you have spent your whole day looking after other people or compromising on what shows to watch on TV then you can feel hard done by to go to bed without having done the things that you really wanted to,” she says. “Therefore, last thing at night when everyone else has gone to bed can feel like the ideal time to do the things you really want to do for yourself without having to compromise.” While we may feel that those post-work hours hold promise for productivity, an increasingly later bedtime can begin to wreak havoc on our physical and mental health leaving us frazzled and unproductive in the long run.

It's no wonder that almost one in five people in the UK aren't getting enough sleep, according to a recent study as we scramble to fulfil our daily tasks. “When we don’t get the right amount of sleep this has consequences on both our physical and mental health,” Browning says. “People who don’t get the right amount of sleep tend to have higher frequencies of depression and anxiety, higher rates of heart disease and stroke, greater risk of diabetes and obesity, higher risk of getting dementia and certain types of cancers plus a reduced immune system. Also your reaction times and ability to make decisions are also compromised after a poor night’s sleep. Even though sleep can feel like a waste of time, it's actually when your body regenerates and repairs and it is imperative for us to get enough sleep so that we are able to function at a peak level during the day.” In short, revenge bedtime procrastination is what we call a false economy.

So, what can we do about it? Dr Philip Clarke, lecturer in psychology at the University of Derby believes it begins with reframing our mindset. Although the seemingly motivational mantra of “we have the same 24 hours as Beyonce” is engrained in our mind as we attempt to 'boss' our day, shifting our energy to time efficiency is key. “Unfortunately, no matter how much planning or strategising you do, you will only ever have 24 hours in a day at your disposal,” Clarke begins. “Refocusing on energy, rather than time, management allows you to capitalise on the time you have for each task. This results in working more productively and efficiently when you feel energised, rather than trying to focus and be efficient at a time you are your energy is low. The latter often leads to procrastinating, not being productive and then beating yourself up about your lack of productivity. This becomes a cycle of feeling like you’re surviving, which will lead you to feel demotivated and de-energised which can have negative implications on your mental health and wellbeing.”

One of the most important lessons Clarke teaches is the importance of ‘slowing down to speed up’. “This means prioritising your input of energy (by sleeping, having downtime etc.) to allow you to have greater output (energy in tasks, productivity etc.). My clients report experiencing happier, more productive, and overall, increasingly more positive work and home lifestyles,” he says. Amen to that!

5 ways to curb revenge bedtime procrastination

We asked the experts how we can make the most of our day so we can have a restful night's sleep:

Work backwards

“Start with the time you need to get up in the morning and work backwards to work out what your ideal bedtime is,” Clarke says. “The aim is to work in 15 minutes blocks, so, if you usually go to bed at 11 o’clock, then aim to go to bed at 10:45 and try that for a week or two. Then keep working back until you get to your ideal bedtime to get the appropriate number of hours sleep.”

Keep weekends free

“Ensure that your weekends are as free from commitments as possible so that you get plenty of 'me' time,” advises Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic. “You want to find a balance between the things you have to do vs what you do simply for fun and enjoyment.”

Focus on sleep during the week

“It's a myth is that you will catch up on sleep at the weekend,” Clarke says. “If you’re losing 10 hours of sleep a week (two hours a night), you’re unlikely to sleep an extra 10 hours over the weekend, on top of your normal sleep.”

Monitor the problem

“Identify that this is a behaviour you engage in and start monitoring it,” Touroni says. “Consider what your ideal bedtime would be that also allows space for pleasurable activities.”

Take a break

“Take regular breaks during the working day to check in with yourself, what you have left to do in the day and what you need to prioritise,” Touroni suggests.

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