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How Bedtime Procrastination Can Hold You Back

"Why do I do this when I know I'll feel terrible the next day?”

Key points

  • Perhaps 70 million adults in the U.S. have some form of sleep disorder or engage in bedtime procrastination.
  • People prone to procrastination, anxiety, or exhaustion are more likely to stay up later than intended.
  • With recognition and effort, many people can address and correct bedtime procrastination.
Kinga Cichewitz / Unsplash
Source: Kinga Cichewitz / Unsplash

Many people come to therapy because of sleep problems. They ask questions like:

  • “I feel sleepy at work all day, but when I get home, I find ways to keep myself up way past my bedtime. And the cycle repeats. How do I put an end to this torture?”
  • “I’ve noticed that I stay up longer on days when I work longer than usual. Why do I do this to myself when I know I’ll feel terrible the next day?”
  • “Sometimes, after having a bad day, I just don’t sleep. I feel like it’s my way to control things. How do I stop doing this every time things don’t go my way?”

A good night's sleep is important for our physical and mental health, yet millions of Americans struggle to get enough shuteye. According to the National Institute of Health, 50 to 70 million adults in the U.S. have some form of a sleep disorder.

If you relate to these questions, you may be suffering from what is called "bedtime procrastination" — the tendency to stay up later than intended in spite of the negative consequences of doing so.

The consequences of bedtime procrastination can be significant. For one, it can lead to sleep deprivation, which can have a number of negative effects on physical and mental health. It can also lead to arguments and conflict with your partner, your boss, or others in your life.

If you find that you’re engaging in bedtime procrastination on a regular basis, it’s important to identify the root cause. Once you know what’s driving your behavior, you can begin to make changes that will help you get the rest you need.

Here are the three questions to ask yourself to identify the root cause of your bedtime procrastination.

1. Are you prone to procrastination in general?

Procrastination is a common habit among those who are unable to self-regulate. Look for giveaways that you are a procrastinator. For example:

  • Do you put off paying your bills until the last minute despite having the money?
  • Do you keep flaking on your friends because you’ll “meet them tomorrow"?
  • Are you always behind at work but find yourself idly scrolling through social media when you know you should be working?

If you answer yes to these, then a lack of self-regulation may be at the core of your behavior. A study published in Frontiers in Psychology revealed a link between people who scored low on self-regulation and sleep procrastination.

Improve your ability to self-regulate by focusing on the positive life changes you would experience if you stopped procrastinating. For example, you would get more done, be more relaxed, and feel less anxious. And, as a cherry on the cake, you would sleep more because you have less catching up to do at night.

2. Are you an anxious person?

According to a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, anxious people, not surprisingly, are more likely to have sleep problems compared to healthy individuals. The study also found that sleep procrastination played a role in causing sleep problems in those with anxiety.

Working through your anxiety with the guidance of a therapist could do wonders to improve your sleep and, in effect, your overall quality of life.

Another study published in Dreaming revealed that people with anxiety disorders reported having unpleasant dreams significantly more often than healthy individuals.

If you are an anxious person, this could be one of the reasons why you choose to delay sleep. Try to record your dreams. If the storylines of your dreams upset you, speak to a mental health practitioner.

Remember, anxiety and sleep problems are often a vicious cycle and can be extremely destructive. It is important that you address the root of your bedtime procrastination by alleviating your anxiety.

3. Are you physically exhausted?

A study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that too much exercise or physical exertion during the day could lead to hyperarousal, which is a state of heightened responsiveness. This was found to increase insomnia symptoms in individuals.

A state of hyperarousal makes it especially hard for people to fall asleep. If you are someone who is physically exhausted at the end of the day, this could explain your proclivity for bedtime procrastination.

While regular exercise is a crucial aspect of healthy living, keep an eye out for what your body is telling you. For example:

  • Are there aches and pains that don’t seem to go away?
  • Do you have inexplicable changes in appetite?
  • Are you seeing a drop in your exercise performance?

If you answered yes to these questions, it is likely that you are dealing with a high physical load. Understand that a high physical load is not only brought about by overexercise; if you have a job or a hobby that demands manual labor, you could potentially bring on a state of hyperarousal.

Exercise and exert yourself physically, but watch your energy levels throughout the day. Take the necessary steps to stop exhausting yourself before bedtime. This will help you fall asleep easier.


Bedtime procrastination is a real phenomenon that can have negative consequences on your health and relationships. If you find yourself engaging in this behavior, try to identify the root cause and make changes accordingly. With a little effort, you can overcome it and get the rest you need.

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