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How to beat bedtime procrastination

You planned an early night, and lord knows you need it: ‘bath then bed’ you say to yourself at 9pm with the conviction of a child at Christmas. But despite your best intentions, five hours later, you find your pillows adorned with popcorn as your lids droop begrudgingly over the 6th episode of [insert trash tv programme here]. The next day you wake up with the same lust for life as the empty, salty popcorn packet in the bed next to you. So, what gives?

When it comes to choosing telly (or any other kind of recreational time) over sleep, we are likely engaging in a behaviour that sleep scientists call revenge bedtime procrastination. That’s the idea that we try to carve ‘me time’ out of our day by taking it out of our sleep time.

The phrase is thought to have been popularised in China (where it’s known as ‘bàofùxìng áoyè’), due to their intense 996 culture (9am – 9pm work schedule, 6 days a week). Yikes! Yet the behaviour of putting off bedtime, to reclaim precious personal time (to the detriment of our sleepy selves) is widespread, resonating with workers the world over.

If you’re feeling guilty for complaining about your lack of sleep, whilst actively putting off your bedtime, know – you are not alone. What’s more, downtime is important for our wellbeing, just as sleep is. Frankly, it shouldn’t have to be a choice between sleep or fun, but while the boundaries between work and home continue to blur (no, working from bed isn’t a legitimate home office set-up), carving quality time to yourself out of the working day can feel impossible.

The good news is, there are things we can do to beat revenge bedtime procrastination and get rest without feeling like we’re on an eat-sleep-work repeat cycle. The better news is, it comes with putting our JOY first and foremost. Here are three handy tips to beat bedtime procrastination without sacrificing quality time to yourself:

1. ‘You time’ can be any time (except maybe nighttime)

It’s common to want to spend the last hours before bed enjoying your downtime, and who are we to stop you!? Yet, if you find you’re tempted to prolong fun time into your sleep time, try mixing it up. Could you take a longer lunch break and go running/painting/Zumba-ing in the middle of the day? Or maybe you can find 5 minutes every hour to have a chat with your housemate/cat/co-worker that fills you up. Lots of workplaces are now promoting a flexible working culture, find out what your office policy is and make the most of it. Equally, getting to know what sleep type you are (night owl or morning lark?) can also help you figure out when might be the best time of the day for you to be more active vs when to rest.

2. More fun, more frequently

If you feel like you’ve got to carve time out of sleep to enjoy yourself, let’s treat that as a warning sign to sprinkle more fun *throughout* your day. Buy a bottle of bubbles so you can blow them beside your desk, take five minutes to cuddle your cat, make (or buy) yourself a fancy coffee, pop in and chat to your neighbour. When we focus our attention on getting through the workday as quickly as possible, we can often neglect our needs throughout the day! No one at work’s going to mind (or even notice) if you take a 5-minute break every hour to do some stretching or read an interesting article. Don’t sweat it, having regular (fun-filled) breaks is likely to make you more focused when you do turn your attention back to work anyhow!

3. Put downtime on your phone

The best of bedtime routines can go awry when a funny meme pops up in your group chat, or your best friend has a bad date story she wants to share. It can be easy to get carried away with whatever’s demanding your attention now. When this happens, we can easily lose sight of the importance of rest. A well-rested you is likely to be a much happier you, with greater bandwidth for creating (and sticking to) routines during the day which incorporates that all-important quality time you need. So, set up ‘down time’ for at least an hour before you go to sleep and see what impact it has on how in-control you feel over your time.


Final thoughts: In the words of Coldplay, “Nobody said it was easy, but no one ever said it would be so hard”. When it comes to wellbeing, there’s often a disconnect between knowing what’s good for us and actually doing it. In the case of revenge bedtime procrastination specifically, it makes sense that we won’t want to break the habit if it feels like we’ve got to sacrifice quality time with ourselves.

So don’t – make quality time your priority, just avoid doing it around the hours of sleep and sprinkle more joy throughout the day! That way you may find by the end of the day, you actually want to go to sleep… Well, we can dream.




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