Written by Sadia Akbar
Are you guilty of staying up late when you should probably be asleep – replying to just one more text, scrolling through Instagram for just five more minutes, watching just one more episode of your latest Netflix binge? You might be experiencing ‘bedtime procrastination’.
Kroese and colleagues introduced the concept of bedtime procrastination in 2014, defining it as “needlessly and voluntarily delaying going to bed, despite foreseeably being worse off as a result.” Essentially, it refers to understanding that you are capable of falling asleep and getting enough hours of sleep, while acknowledging that you might be tired the next day if you do not, but delaying going to bed regardless.
Studies have shown that the students display the greatest prevalence of this phenomenon – which may not be all that surprising. Students are particularly vulnerable to sleep deprivation due to their unique academic and social pressures. In fact, close to half of university students included in a 2012 study reported always or often sleeping less than 6 hours per day, and more than 60% reported feeling tired in the mornings. Poor health habits such as irregular meal patterns and the consumption of recreational drugs also contribute to poor sleep hygiene. The importance of sufficient, good quality sleep has been well-established; it is key to maintaining our physiological homeostasis and functioning. Insufficient sleep affects our mood and emotional regulation, academic performance, and has been linked to risk-taking behaviour, depression, and obesity, among several other health issues. As such, bedtime procrastination has become an increasingly important phenomenon to study more closely, and is an issue that needs to be addressed through the development of health promotion initiatives.
Bedtime procrastination is unique from other forms of procrastination as it does not involve delaying aversive tasks. Sleeping is not considered aversive; rather, it is generally viewed as desirable. As such, bedtime procrastination may not be a result of not wanting to sleep, but instead of not wanting to quit other activities. Struggling to give up enjoyable activities at night, such as socializing, watching Netflix, and scrolling through TikTok may be reflective of poor self-regulation. Poor self-regulation involves an increased tendency to seek immediate rewards and a decreased prioritization of goal-directed activities (e.g. going to bed on time, refraining from consuming caffeine in the evening, etc.). Homeostatic and self-regulatory processes are also known to be exhausted throughout the day, making the ability to refrain from bedtime procrastination-associated activities challenging by the evening.
An interesting subset to note is revenge bedtime procrastination, which gained popularity on Twitter and spread to other social media platforms. It was originally popularized in China as “bàofùxìng áoyè” and is essentially a means to steal back one’s time after long hours working. Individuals who did not have much control over their life during the day sought to regain freedom during the night by sacrificing hours of sleep to engage in personal activities. This staying up out of frustration is where the “revenge” gets added. Participants in this trend faced mixed emotions, stating that it is “sad because [their] health suffered, but great because [they] got a bit of freedom”.
Furthermore, emerging research is looking more closely at the distinction between bedtime procrastination versus while-in-bed procrastination. While-in-bed procrastination, as the term suggests, involves going to bed at the desired time but failing to sleep the desired number of hours. The availability of distractions while laying in bed is insurmountable with smartphones, and heavily contributes to while-in-bed procrastination. A 2020 study identified watching movies and YouTube videos, listening to music, and texting as some of the most commonly implicated behaviours.
In contrast to bedtime procrastination and other sleep issues like insomnia, for which the female sex is a strong risk factor, while-in-bed procrastination was associated with the male sex. Further, while-in-bed procrastination was linked to earlier dinner times, again in contrast to bedtime procrastination which was linked to later dinner times. The differences observed in factors contributing to bedtime procrastination versus while-in-bed procrastination emphasize a need to further assess these phenomena and develop interventions that address each of them uniquely.
Given that sleep is undeniably crucial to our wellbeing and that there is a surprising lack of research on this phenomenon, further study of bedtime procrastination may provide insight into novel sleep improvement interventions.