There are many reasons we often don't get as much sleep as we should: work, family obligations, or even your nightcap can all hinder sleep. But sometimes, sleeping less is due simply to not wanting to go to bed when we're able to.
A recent study published in Frontiers in Psychology examined this exact behavior, which researchers called 'bedtime procrastination.' Identifying it as a significant contributor to insufficient sleep, the study defined bedtime procrastination as "failing to go to bed at the intended time while no external circumstances prevent a person from doing so." Common methods of procrastinating before sleep include watching television or engaging with other electronic devices.
While procrastination can be viewed as a result of lacking self-control, Fuschia Sirois, a psychology professor at Bishop's University sees putting off sleep in favor of other activities as a symptom of not being able to effectively regulate negative moods. "If you had a really good day, and you have no worries, you wouldn't necessarily be engaging in bedtime procrastination," Sirois says. "Engaging in other things becomes a way of not having to lie there with your thoughts running around, over and over."
There's also the problem of mental fatigue. Around the time you should go to sleep, you're likely to be tired and have little mental energy, diminishing your capacity for self-regulation. "If you've got these other fun things to do – watch TV, or go on your cell phone or your iPad – it's a way of distracting you from dealing with negative emotions," says Sirois. "That ability to say no to these other competing things is completely weakened in the state before bed."
Tim Pychyl, a psychology professor at Carleton University and author of 'Solving the Procrastination Puzzle,' says one way to combat this type of procrastination is to simply picture your potential cranky and tired state in the morning. Visualizing your future (miserable) self can help you choose the rational option instead of the irrational one. "Bedtime procrastination is the poster child of the ethos that procrastination represents," Pychyl says. "It's the little 6-year-old in all of us."