According to an extensive body of research, procrastinating before bed is a legitimate condition, born from entirely relatable conditions.
Here’s a novel concept. Our failure to go to bed at a reasonable time is a form of punishment. Sensationally translated as “revenge bedtime procrastination”, the practice involves procrastination in lieu of sleep.
Wired spoke to perforamnce expert Alessandra Edwards, who noted that “revenge bedtime procrastination is quite common in people who feel they don’t have control over their time (such as those in high-stress occupations) and are looking for a way to regain some personal time, even if it means staying up too late.”
“When it comes to the evening, they categorically refuse to go to bed early, at a time they know will suit them best and enable them to get adequate restorative sleep and feel better,” explains Edwards. “Nevertheless there is a sense of retaliation against life, so there is an idea of revenge to stay awake and do whatever fills their bucket.”
Indeed, behavioral scientist Floor Kroese, who lead the study that first introduced bedtime procrastination, believes that a link exists between sleep procrastination and its daytime cousin.
“An interesting difference may be that people typically procrastinate on tasks they find aversive—housework, homework, boring tasks—while sleeping for most people is not aversive at all,” says Kroese. “It might be the bedtime routines that precede going to bed that people dislike or just that they do not like quitting whatever they were doing.”
However, solutions for this behaviour do exist. Per a man who calls himself “the Sleep Doctor”, we should break up the last hour of our consciousness into three parts.
The first 20 minutes are dedicated to things that need to be done; the second 20 minutes are set aside for hygiene (shower, teeth, et cetera) and the final 20 minutes are for relaxation (such as meditation, prayer, or journaling).
Elsewhere in the land of scientific sleep, an endeavouring chap has tried to answer an age-old question: can you die from a lack of sleep?
The chap, Randy Gardner, has skin in the game, as he once set a record for staying awake for more than eleven days.
Gardner’s ordeal was, however, a gift to science because upon hearing of this science experiment by the then 17-year-old Gardner, psychiatrist, William C Dement from Stanford University jumped on board to observe and record the brain patterns that occurred.
What the researchers found was that after just 48 hours of staying awake, Gardner’s eyes lost their ability to focus properly, he became unable to recognise some objects via touch, and he failed to repeat simple tongue twisters. By day three, he became uncoordinated and moody, and by day five hallucinations commenced. Soon after, Gardner experienced concentration troubles, his short-term memory formation suffered, and he began to feel irritable and even paranoid.
At times during the study, researchers noted that different parts of Gardner’s brain shut down to rest, even though he appeared fully awake. This may hold the secret to why previous tests on animals – which suggested a lack of sleep could eventuate in death – did not occur in humans.
Now aged almost 70, Gardner seemingly has not incurred any mental or physical defects as a result of the experiment, which is intriguing, given that today there are widely known consequences from long-term attempts at trying to function on less sleep than our body requires. High blood pressure, adrenal burnout, hormone fluctuations and weight gain are just some of the potential consequences of continuously failing to get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep a night.
In the US, 30% of adults and 66% of teenagers are reported to be regularly sleep-deprived. Here in Australia, it’s believed that 39.8% are functioning on insufficient sleep, which comes at a cost of $66.3 billion dollars – $40.1 billion of which is said to be in lost wellbeing.
A report by the Sleep Health Foundation linked more than 3,017 deaths in 2016-2017 to inadequate sleep, 394 of which occurred due to industrial accidents or because someone fell asleep while driving a vehicle.
Karyn O’Keefe from the Sleep/Wake Research Centre at Massey University in New Zealand said, “With respect to risk of a work-related injury, a large US study has shown that workers who got less than 5 hours sleep per day were 2.7 times more likely to have a work-related injury than those who got 7 to 7.9 hours’ sleep.”
She added, “In the long-term, lack of sleep has been shown to lead to problems with physical health, such as the increased risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke, as well as increased risk for depression and anxiety.”
So although staying awake for a long period of time – just once – may result in a Guinness World Record, and may not result in any long term damage to your health, it’s highly likely that consistently depriving your body of adequate rest will cause some type of health and wellbeing deficit; so best you try and get a good night’s shut-eye as often as you can.