Girl Sleeping At Her Desk

A rude awakening awaits sleep saboteurs

What we're really sacrificing for that extra episode on Netflix before bed

Written by Professor Gary Martin FAIM
4 minute read
Girl Sleeping At Her Desk

There’s a rude awakening for those who sabotage their sleep.

You are tired and must get up early for work, but that does not seem to prevent you from binging on a few more episodes of your favourite series.

This act of rebellion, which will put your health and your job at risk, is called revenge bedtime procrastination – a new label for an old problem made worse by the pandemic.

Most of us finish work at the end of a long day, spend time with family and catch up on domestic duties before hitting the sack.

But instead of getting much-needed shut-eye time, we start reading a book, watch reruns of Desperate Housewives or zone out on our social media feed.

Before we know it, it is 1am and in just under five hours we will need to get up and start a new day.

Even though we know we need at least seven hours’ sleep to function effectively and that grabbing a slab of “me-time” will make our sleep-deprived work days even more challenging, we cannot resist and push deep into the night.

You would be forgiven for thinking that revenge bedtime procrastination is something pre-schoolers do for fun.

Yet sacrificing sleep to make way for “me-time” is rife among the adult community.

Those with high-stress jobs involving long hours, students who combine study with work and parents and caregivers are often the perpetrators – and therefore victims – of bedtime procrastination.

Also known as sleep procrastination, it happens when we make a deliberate choice to delay sleep in favour of some form of leisure activity.

The “revenge” bit is the craving to take some control back from the hours spent working or caring for others during the day.

Sleep procrastinators intentionally cut into their sleep time, viewing this option as the only way to make time for low-key, pleasurable activities.

It is hardly surprising that we have found ourselves in a situation where an estimated 30 per cent of the population receives less than the oft-recommended seven hours of sleep a day.

With many working remotely because of the pandemic, the boundaries between our jobs and the rest of our lives have blurred to the point that many of us have inadvertently extended our working day.

Demands on our time have increased, not reduced, during periods of remote working.

Even when we are in the office, technology has meant it is relatively easy to bring work home to extend the daily grind.

The more we extend our working days, the less opportunity we have to enjoy leisure activities and the further we forgo sleep to catch up on activities that we enjoy.

If that is not bad enough, it is thought the less we enjoy our work or daily activities, the more likely we are to cut into our sleep time at night.

Those who skip sleep to immerse themselves in activities they enjoy believe the trade-off will cut their stress levels.

However, less sleep is likely to create even more stress.

The more we resist the need for sleep, the less productive we become at work and in our lives in general.

In the workplace, a lack of sleep can induce memory loss, increase the chances of angry outbursts, cause hallucinations and slurred speech, impair decision-making and result in a head-in-the-clouds, fogged-up feeling.

Even worse, in what may be a rude awakening for those who avoid bedtime to enjoy other pursuits, experts say the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life span.

Most of us recognise that getting enough sleep is a necessary albeit boring investment in our health.

Just like we often avoid similarly mundane investments to improve our lives, like drinking more water, spending time exercising, including more fruit and vegetables in our diet and making extra superannuation account contributions, we are quick to dismiss the value of sleep.

We tend to value the immediate rewards of doing something we enjoy over the future rewards of waking up refreshed with better long-term health prospects.

While it makes sense to allow time to enjoy more relaxation, sacrificing sleep to do so is an ineffective method of managing stress.

Experts are quick to highlight alternatives.

A great start is to simply think about the issue and acknowledge the ways you are sabotaging your own sleep.

Many find scheduling short breaks throughout the work day to do something enjoyable, such as meditation or listening to music, useful while others point to the importance of having a hot shower or bath before bed to unwind.

Some find it useful to take a more holistic approach by planning leisure time across the entire week so that relaxation is not the exclusive domain of the final few hours before bed.

Still others recommend creating the perfect sleep environment so that there is no room for procrastination. This includes having what some call a digital curfew – putting our digital devices to bed before we retire ourselves.

Ironically, it is only a person who has had sufficient sleep who will have the mental clarity to discover opportunities for downtime during daylight hours.