What was your bedtime routine last night? A well-planned wind-down and lights out on schedule? Or a drawn-out process of reading just one more chapter/email/text message followed by putting a wash on, talking to the dog and prepping breakfast? All of which I did last night after the time I’d planned to go to bed.
If this resonates, you may – like me – suffer from Revenge Bedtime Procrastination. It may sound like a random string of words, but it’s worth examining because it may explain why many of us don’t get the sleep we need to age well. The term Bedtime Procrastination was coined by researchers in the Netherlands in 2014 to explain a failure to go to bed at the intended time, even though there’s no external circumstances preventing it. In an article published in Frontiers in Psychology, they reported – unsurprisingly – that people afflicted with bedtime procrastination failed to get enough sleep and had lower levels of wellbeing as a result.
Revenge at bedtime, really?
How does ‘Revenge’ come into Bedtime Procrastination? The term seems to have originated in China and refers to the idea of ‘taking revenge’ on a hectic and stressful day by reclaiming time for leisure activities at night, even if that comes at the cost of our own sleep. It creates a vicious circle of sleep deprivation, more procrastination because we’re tired, then more sleep deprivation, and so on. It seems that the less self-determination we get in the day due to a stressful job or other responsibilities, the more we want to reclaim our own time.
The issue of Revenge Bedtime Procrastination has been exacerbated in the last year by the even greater blurring of divisions between work and homelife, additional responsibilities such as caring and home-schooling, and the general stress of living through a global pandemic. The time we have for leisure is even more squeezed, so we try to fit it in past bedtime. Added to that is the issue of Covid-somnia, the term coined by sleep neurologists to describe the increase in reported sleep disturbances. We’ve had over a year of unprecedented stresses, reduced daylight exposure and upended routines. It’s no wonder we can’t sleep.
It may not surprise you to learn that researchers from the University of Krakow found women are more likely to procrastinate at bedtime than men. That’s certainly true in my house, where my Mr Age-Well will be happily snoozing away while I faff late into the night.
What can we do about it?
I know so many people are sleep deprived because of anxiety, insomnia and illness. But if Bedtime Procrastination sounds like a description of your evening, think about what you can do about it. Identify the time between when you want to go to bed and when you actually do. What are you doing in the time? What’s driving you to these activities rather than going to bed? The chasm between what we want to do, and what we actually do, has been labelled the Intention-Behaviour Gap by psychologists. And it makes a lot of sense: we’re full of good intentions about healthy living, but following through can be more difficult. We’re hard-wired, cognitively-speaking, to seek out immediate reward (the enjoyment of reading another chapter of a gripping book or bingeing another episode on Netflix) rather than wait for the delayed gratification of waking up feeling rested.
A simple way to focus on this, and to start to move past it, is to track bedtimes, sleep hours and how you feel the next day. Jot down the time you intend to go to bed, the time you actually do and how rested you feel in the morning. Try it for three days then review your results. What could you do differently? Visualise how good you’ll feel the next day after a decent night’s sleep rather than a too-late night of faffing around. I’m going to start tonight! Let me know if you’re doing it too and let’s all try to beat the procrastination.
…And why we need to go to bed
What happens in our brains when we sleep is endlessly fascinating. When we are in deep sleep, the brain effectively shrinks so its ‘housekeeping team’, the glymphatic system, can get to work cleaning out toxins which have accumulated during the day. There’s more here. We can support our glymphatic system by getting regular exercise, adequate omega-3 fatty acids (from oily fish, walnuts, flax seeds etc) and, most importantly, enough sleep.
If we needed more reminders of the importance of a good night’s sleep, research undertaken at Harvard and published a couple of months ago in the journal Aging highlighted a link between poor sleep and increased Alzheimer’s risk. Almost 3000 people aged 65 and over were tracked for five years. They answered questions about sleep quality, how long it took them to nod off, sleep duration, and snoring. Participants getting less than five hours sleep a night were twice as likely to develop dementia as those getting seven-eight hours. Taking a long time to fall asleep (more than 30 minutes) correlated with a 45% increased dementia risk. It’s a stark reminder of how important sleep is, how much we need to prioritise it in our lives and why we should seek help if we’re not getting enough.
THE AGE-WELL PROJECT’S MINI-ME!
Our book, The Age-Well Project, turns two next week! If you’ve got a copy, a huge thank you for your support, it means so much and makes us so happy to see the book out in the world. Our publishers, Piatkus, are celebrating the two-year milestone by bringing out a new version (with the same content). It’s a smaller, and dare we say – cuter, version of the book in paperback size and with a lower price point. It’s released on Thursday May 6th and we’ll be celebrating that day by giving away copies on our Instagram and Facebook pages. If you’re not on social media send a quick email to firstname.lastname@example.org with BOOK in the subject line and tell us why you’d like a copy of The Age-Well Project! The giveaway closes at midnight on Sunday May 9th 2021.
Main photo: Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash