A recent study found that procrastination affects not only our daily activities, but also our sleep patterns and, as a result, our health. Scientists from Utrecht University in the Netherlands surveyed 177 men and women about their sleep habits, lifestyles and procrastination levels. Their findings, published in Frontiers in Psychology, suggest that “bedtime procrastination” is a more widespread, harmful problem than anyone thought.
Bedtime procrastination is characterized by an individual’s failure to go to bed at the intended time, even though no external circumstances prevent them from doing so. Even after one night, it “can lead to decreased cognitive function, trouble concentrating, headaches and general moodiness,” says Dr. M. Safwan Badr, former president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM).
Because even a single night of bedtime procrastination can seriously affect your ability to function, it’s important to eliminate activities and distractions that can keep you up or tossing and turning through the wee hours.
So, how can we avoid bedtime procrastination and the issues it causes? Here are four proactive strategies to help you get to bed on time:
Keep your eyes off screens.
When scientists researched the sleep habits of current preindustrial societies living in Africa and Bolivia, they found that nearly no one suffered from insomnia. In fact, they found that the people in these cultures nearly never napped, or set any sort of designated sleep schedule. And although there are probably many reasons for this, one is likely that there are less technological distractions available to preindustrial peoples.
There is plenty of research that shows reading on screens before bed negatively affects sleep. Watching exciting programs before bed may cause you to “stay up longer, and be more engaged, than is ideal for [your] schedule,” suggests Dr. Badr. Combine an overstimulated brain with the light and volume variations the TV produces, and you have a recipe for sleepless nights.
For the best sleep hygiene, Dr. Badr suggests using your bed for sleeping and sex only, and that you avoid “watching TV late at night so you have enough time to conduct a wind-down routine …that doesn’t involve any screens.”
Watching television before or in bed can disrupt sleep, but coupling that with the auto-play feature of streaming services like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime can be very unhealthy. Binge-watching your favorite show can be a great way to spend a rainy Saturday, but it should be avoided before bedtime.
If you absolutely have to log on to one of these services before bed, disable auto-play to make sure you’ll get to sleep on time.
Likewise, do your best to avoid looking at any screens for at least 90 minutes before going to bed. Trade in your Kindle or iPad for a real book while you’re in bed to sleep more restfully through the night.
Set a routine.
Dr. Badr notes that over the long-term, “sleep deprivation can result in significant impairments in cognitive and motor performance,” which increase the risk of automobile, work-related and fatal accidents. Building a wind-down routine for the hours before you go to bed can help you avoid sleep deprivation and the bad habits that cause it.
Select a time at which you’ll go to bed every night and create a routine for how you’ll spend your last hour before bed. Make sure the activities you “schedule” relate to sleeping and help you wind down.
For a truly effective sleep routine, Dr. Badr suggests keeping “a regular sleep schedule, as you would for your child,” and “making your bedroom quiet, dark, and a little bit cool” before bed.
Get a real alarm clock.
Yes, the one on your phone works, but having your phone next to your bed might entice you to check one more message or answer one more email, stimulating your brain and keeping you awake longer. If you need to use your phone as an alarm, says Dr. Badr, “keep the phone beyond arms reach” to help you avoid the urge to check email or browse apps.
The evening is a great time to reflect on the day you’ve had and to clear your mind of any concerns or stressors.