Health / Expert Advice

Sleep Procrastination Is a Thing—Here’s How to Stop

Just say no to the swipes, lit screens, and stressors keeping you up at night.

Sure, from time to time you procrastinate when it comes to work and household chores. But procrastinate something as wonderful as sleep? No way.

Well, actually, you might. Going to bed may not seem like an activity people would tend to avoid, but many do.

Bedtime or sleep procrastination, as named by researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, is when you voluntarily put off hitting the hay even though there’s nothing requiring you to stay awake.

You’re done with dinner, dishes, and any nighttime chores. But find yourself wasting time, staring at the TV, scrolling through social media mindlessly—anything to keep you from going to bed.

“It’s definitely a real thing—and something that’s only gotten worse with the explosion of technology in the last decade or two,” says Chris Brantner, a certified sleep science coach.

Staying up late alone does not make you a sleep procrastinator. Some people can do that and perform at their peak.

Those who are naturally night owls thrive in the late hours of the day, Brantner says. They can stay up late and be productive.

Sleep procrastinators, on the other hand, aren’t doing anything productive, he notes. “They’re just swiping right or watching another episode.”

The problem, of course, is that staying up later than you planned usually doesn’t come with a later alarm the next morning.

“Whether we get to sleep on time or not, most of us have to wake up at a certain time, so the result is a sleep-deprived human race,” Brantner says.

It’s not much of an exaggeration. Forty percent of adults average six hours or less of sleep per night, and that constitutes “short sleep.”

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If you’re short on sleep, your risk for all kinds of illnesses goes up—cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease—and you’re more likely to be stressed and depressed, too.

Resisting the temptations keeping you awake is easier said than done, but try these tips to help you head to bed at a decent hour.

Say bye-bye to binge watching.

People who have a hard time resisting temptation are more likely to give in to sleep procrastination, according to a study from the Utrecht University researchers noted above.

They found that sleep procrastination was negatively associated with self-regulation. “Bottom line, it takes a decision to improve your behavior around sleep,” Brantner says.

Give yourself a firm bedtime and a hard-and-fast rule about how much TV you’re allowed to take in each night.

Try limiting that binge-watching to weekend afternoons when you have more free time before bed.

Leave work at the office—or at least in another room.

Make a habit of bringing your laptop into bed with you? Major no-no when it comes to going to sleep.

The harsh blue light that laptops (and smartphones) emit inhibits melatonin production and tricks us into thinking we aren’t tired.

“The bedroom should be reserved for sex and sleep—that’s it,” Brantner says. Leave all your devices tucked away somewhere else.

If you’ve stashed your laptop but still often find yourself avoiding bedtime because you’re worried about work, deadlines, or other stressors awaiting you the next day, write it all down.

“Put pen to paper and make your to-do list before bed,” Brantner suggests. “It will help offload the coming day’s worries.”

Bonus: Start getting to bed earlier. You may wind up feeling less stressed naturally. “Adequate sleep has shown to reduce stress and anxiety levels,” he says.

Shut down the social media.

Part of the cause of sleep procrastination, unsurprisingly, is our obsession with social media. The light of your smartphone screen is, again, a problem.

But keeping up with social feeds also affects sleep by increasing anxiety, Brantner says.

“Sleep procrastination has really blown up in the age of smartphones,” he says, noting that more than three-fourths of people take their phones to bed.

The majority also looks at their lit screens within 30 minutes of trying to go to sleep. An hour pre-bedtime should be your firm cutoff for any kind of tech device, he adds.

Try some yoga.

Once you set all your gadgets aside, dim the lights and chill out in child’s pose—or do something else equally calming, Brantner advises.

The regulated breathing of yoga, in particular, is tops for winding down because it automatically regulates your nervous system.

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In a survey from the National Institutes of Health, 85 percent of people said yoga helped them nix stress, and 55 percent reported better sleep following their practice. With any luck, your “om” will quickly turn into Z’s.

Try these tips this week and see how your hours of sleep stack up. Your body and mind will thank you!

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