Bedtime procrastination.

Yep, there’s a name for the distance between your intended bed time and your actual bed-time (not withstanding external reasons i.e. young children).

Lack of sleep has a huge impact on us physically and mentally. But many people assume this is really only an issue for chronic insomniacs. You might be thinking that your six hours a night isn’t really a big deal; it’s not like your only getting four hours right? Wrong.

Even just being an hour short of the recommended seven to eight hours can measurably impact on our cognitive abilities.

And if you think you’re one of those people who only need four hours, odds are you are probably wrong again. Sleep research looking at the cognitive functioning of such people shows a completely different story. Individuals who function well on such little sleep are rare as hen’s teeth and it’s probably due to a rare genetic anomaly (He et al, 2009).

To get to the point though, adults should aim for eight hours a night. Some people need a little more, some a little less, but no more than an hour each way. But most of us already know that, yet somehow we are chronically under slept en masse.

Making the time to sleep and enacting good sleep hygiene is a real problem, hanging out in the gap between intention and behaviour with procrastination for company, and is technically referred to as self-regulation.

…people with low self-regulation skills are typically more sensitive to distractions or temptations in the environment, while being less focused on longer-term goals.

(Kroese et al, 2014)

Self-regulation is our capacity to set and follow limits and boundaries for ourselves, and a lot of us are pretty crappy at it, especially when it comes to bedtimes. But why?

It depends on how you perceive the idea of self-regulation. Is it a state that changes moment to moment, or a fixed trait, or a combo? Not getting enough sleep certainly reduces our capacity for self-regulation, and circularly, poor self-regulation skills means we are less likely to get enough sleep.

If it’s just a matter of self-regulation, there are a host of self-regulation strategies that can be employed to help. But this takes a very mechanistic view of people and while such strategies can be helpful, they can also mask deeper underlying process (that will inevitably find expression somewhere else in our lives).

A psychodynamic perspective would suggest several hypotheses.

Maybe its ill-formed inner parents (inner mother, inner father); when we were children it was usually our parents that set and enforced bed times and bed time routines.

If we don’t have well functioning inner-parents in our psyche as adults, who is ‘putting us to bed’?

Another guess would be persistent low self-worth whereby we struggle to enact behaviours that are good for our wellbeing, instead unconsciously doing things that create a depressive and tired atmosphere (and make us feel like failures for not being disciplined enough etc – a vicious cycle).

Because Processwork tends to work with actual individual experiences and signals instead of formulaic theories, we wouldn’t tend to make guesses about ‘what’s going on’ until we were actually working with someone on the issue. However, we could consider that as most people have an edge to their own dreaming nature (which is most active and accessible when we sleep), maybe bedtime procrastination is a signal of this edge.

Is it something we are avoiding? Or is there something in particular we should be doing in this window of time, not phaffing and not sleeping, but something else we aren’t aware of? Or why can’t we stop doing other stuff (and for many people it involves a screen of some kind). Maybe we worked too hard all day and didn’t leave enough time for play. Maybe we are too disconnected from others and use the internet to fill the gap.

What’s actually happening in the gap between our intentions and our behaviours?

If bedtime procrastination is selling you short on sleep, come along to The Procrastination Lab and find out why.


He, Y., Jones, C., Fujiki, N., Xu, Y., Guo, B., Holder, J., Rossner, M., Nishino, S. and Fu, Y. (2009). The Transcriptional Repressor DEC2 Regulates Sleep Length in Mammals. Science, 325(5942), pp.866-870.

Kroese, F., Evers, C., Adriaanse, M. and de Ridder, D. (2014). Bedtime procrastination: A self-regulation perspective on sleep insufficiency in the general population. Journal of Health Psychology.

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