Computer, tablet and phone screens have been taking a lot of flak recently for keeping us up at night: we can’t stop scrolling through well-curated Instagram accounts; we always have to play ‘just one more game’ before coming to bed. But is this internet blame game fair? Did technology really give rise to our procrastination of sleep?
Well, for one thing, people have been writing about the woes of procrastination for centuries; for another, putting off sleep — or ‘bedtime procrastination’ — has been linked to far more than just the increase in binge-worthy shows. It seems as if some of us with certain personality traits may naturally be more likely to struggle with habitually avoiding lights out, whether a new season of “Orange is the New Black” is streaming or not.
As reported by The Association of Psychological Science, chronically putting off things that are good for us might not have to do with poor time management, although that’s frequently the assumption. Since procrastinators “carry accompanying feelings of guilt, shame, or anxiety with their decision to delay” there may be a more emotional element or mood regulation issue responsible for this behavior.
Procrastinators may also be focused on feeling good in the moment (eg. staying up to chat with friends on Facebook) and thus will choose to ignore their past mistakes (eg. the last time I did this, it made me very tired at work the next day).
Furthermore, a study from 2014 conducted by researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands (which coined the term ‘bedtime procrastination’), found that those who had the most trouble self-regulating their bedtimes also had trouble sticking to intentions and resisting temptation in general.
After surveying 177 participants on a few different lifestyle choices — such as how often they procrastinated going to bed, how often they procrastinated in general, what their sleep schedules were like and how good they were at self-regulating all their behaviors — it was clear that many people who reported going to sleep later than they intended to at least twice a week were all-around procrastinators, both day and night.
So what can we learn from this? Bedtime procrastination may be just one symptom of a much larger issue, which is why it may be wise for those who habitually put off snooze-time to evaluate whether avoiding tasks and giving into temptation is a pattern in their lives. Consider these example survey statements that the researchers from the Netherlands asked participants to rank themselves, for instance:
- “I generally delay before starting on work I have to do.”
- “I am good at resisting temptations.”
- “I plan tasks carefully.”
- “When I know I must finish something soon, (A) I have to push myself to get started; (B) I find it easy to get it done and over with.”
Of course, insomnia or other sleep disorders may not be helped by addressing avoidance behavior, but thinking about one’s ability to self-regulate as a whole may possibly enable some bedtime procrastinators to approach their lack of sleep in a whole new way.
As researchers from the Netherlands stated, “Our conclusion that going to bed late is a procrastination problem suggests that typical self-regulation enhancing strategies could be applied to prevent or reduce insufficient sleep.”