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Are You Becoming a Bedtime Procrastinator?

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How many times have you collapsed on the couch after a long day, dinner is over, the dishes are done and you finally get a little free time? Bedtime rolls around but you’re having a hard time heading upstairs – maybe there’s a hobby you’ve been wanting to work on or maybe it feels good to have uninterrupted “me” time.

This habit of staying up late just to get some free time actually has a name: revenge bedtime procrastination.

Free Time Is Important for Well-being

“Leisure time that is fulfilling is important for overall life satisfaction,” said Patricia Gardner, MD, a psychiatrist at Samaritan Coastal Clinic in Lincoln City. “When you don’t have the chance during regular hours to spend time on the things that bring you joy, you may find yourself taking time from other areas of your life, namely sleep.” 

While lots of things can keep you up too late at night – a work deadline or a new book you want to finish – revenge bedtime procrastination is unique because it is a habit of doing something that makes life harder (getting less sleep) in order to get a little free time.

Free time is necessary for overall happiness, but not all leisure activities can help you feel fulfilled. Dr. Gardner noted the quality of your free time activity matters. Think about activities that highlight hobbies or social events, like board games with friends on Friday night. These contribute more toward feelings of well-being, rather than passive entertainment like doomscrolling through your news feed.

“On top of the need for finding free time in busy schedules, our world can feel a little uncertain right now. Being able to choose when we go to sleep or what we do instead can give a sense of control during a time when we may feel powerless about so many things around us,” said Dr. Gardner.

Don’t Sacrifice Sleep for Leisure

With more people working remotely, the separation between work and home can become blurry. In addition, many businesses need existing employees to work more with fewer resources. All of those extra hours you’re putting in might have you examining the amount of time you spend on sleep and deciding that’s where to cut back.

It might feel good in the moment but sacrificing sleep for free time isn’t a healthy choice in the long run.

“There are many studies that link shortened sleep to health conditions like depression, anxiety, obesity, cardiovascular disease, stroke and more,” said Dr. Gardner. “Sleep is a foundational aspect of health and should be a priority.”

Managing a full schedule can be challenging but Dr. Gardner notes that sleep and free time can coexist, with a little planning.

  1. Schedule time for yourself and put it on your calendar. If it’s restoring the vintage car in your garage, learning to make a new recipe or finishing the crossword puzzle, put a time on your calendar for the things that bring you joy and fulfillment. Then, carry through on it like you would a doctor’s appointment or date with a friend, and don’t let that time be gobbled up by working late, household chores or scrolling through your phone. “Leisure activities that are restorative are more fulfilling than mindless entertainment,” said Dr. Gardner. “Even if you feel exhausted from a day of work, you’ll feel better after doing an activity that you enjoy.”
  2. Prioritize your commitments. Saying yes to something means saying no to something else, including free time. Make sure everything you’ve said yes to is worth the time and effort. Parents or caregivers of elderly relatives can often feel this effect strongly, when the needs of others frequently come at the expense of their own free time. It may make sense for parents to have a family meeting to look at the schedule and decide what is most important for each person, suggested Dr. Gardner. Caregivers may need to talk with their adult siblings about sharing responsibilities, or look into relief care.
  3. Clean up your sleep hygiene. Having a consistent bedtime routine can make going to bed easier. About an hour before bed, dim the lights, listen to relaxing music, read, stretch, write in your gratitude journal or make a to-do list for the next day, recommended Dr. Gardner.
  4. Set limits on electronics. A study published in the journal Behavioral Sleep Medicine found that watching TV or using other electronic media before bed can lead to delaying sleep. Let’s be honest – electronics and entertainment are hard to put down. Just like it’s hard to eat one cookie or one potato chip, it’s hard to watch one YouTube video or read one online news article. Entertainment media was created to hit just right and leave you wanting more.

    Instead of pitting your self-control against these carefully crafted devices, set yourself up for success. Plan ahead for how much time you’ll spend on entertainment before bed. Be sure to shut off all screens an hour before bedtime, as the light from them tells your brain it is time to wake up. Set daily time limits or downtime for apps on your device, and if you find it difficult to turn off the TV, video games, social media or other forms of entertainment at bedtime, save those as treats for weekends or other “off” days.

“Skimping on sleep puts your health at risk, but at the same time we could all use a little something in our lives that brings joy and fulfillment,” said Dr. Gardner. “Be mindful about how you spend your time and make all aspects of your well-being a priority.”

If you are having trouble coping or need assistance setting up healthy habits, talking to a mental and behavioral health provider can help.