Sleep Procrastination

A New Study (2018) Reveals the Old Reason for the Sleep Procrastination

sleep procrastination

Are you struggling to go to bed on time?

Are you a responsible person who fails to go to bed on time, especially on the first days of the week? You can’t wake up on time and you need to snooze your alarm clock severally.

After you finally got up, you have to run to get ready to work, have breakfast and be on time everywhere.

At work, you demonstrate poor performance. In addition to that, you start feeling guilty; you blame yourself about your ability to control yourself.

Well, there are several studies which have shown the relationship between sleep procrastination and a lack of self-regulatory resources.

However, a new study (2018) has been discovered why don’t you go to bed on time. I will describe it briefly.

The study was conducted by Jana Kühnel and her colleagues at the Work and Organizational Psychology department of the Ulm University, Germany.

They examined the role of chronotype (interindividual differences in biological preferences for sleep-wake-times, also referred to as morningness-eveningness or ‘larks’ and ‘owls’) and self-regulatory resources in sleep procrastination.

For this purpose, they generated data from 108 employees that are working in various industries. The participants had non-shift work, they were not diagnosed with a sleep disorder and had at least 70% weekly working time.

The participants completed questionnaires on chronotype, trait self-control at the begging of the study.

Additionally, they completed two questionnaires every day, one to measure momentary self-regulatory resources before they go to sleep and another to measure bedtime procrastination every morning referring the experience of bedtime procrastination on the previous evening.

They carried out this exercise by asking them questions like ‘Right now, I feel like my willpower is gone’ or ’My mind feels unfocused right now’.

Here are the results.

Professor Jana Kühnel and her colleagues discovered that ‘owls’ went to bed later than ‘larks’ on workdays, but bedtime procrastination declined by Thursday. This pattern could be explained by chronobiology only and couldn’t be explained by trait self-control.

On the contrary, on evenings when the participants had more self-regulatory resources, they did procrastinate more. These results don’t show that reduced self-regulatory resources can cause day-specific sleep procrastination.

Furthermore, the researchers even argue that delaying to go to bed is not procrastination. The term procrastination was introduced first by the psychologist Piers Steel (2007). He writes: ‘Procrastination is a prevalent and pernicious form of self-regulatory failure.’

Steel defined behavioural procrastination as the voluntary delay of action despite negative outcome causing by the delay. What actually happens with later chronotypes (‘owls’) is their endogenous, circadian drive makes them feel more alert in the evening than earlier chronotypes (‘larks’).

This means that feeling more alert could work as a cue (prompt) to engage in different activities instead of going to bed. The researchers argue that this could be called a voluntary delay – procrastination.

In conclusion, the researchers suggest that late chronotypes go later to sleep because of the biological processes and not because they fail to control their desires. 

These findings are significant for us ‘owls’. Firstly, they liberated us from the guilt of the self-regulatory failure. Secondly, they suggested different ways to deal with sleep procrastination than trying to take more control of our own behaviour.

And if you still feel guilty because you don’t go to sleep on time, you should not.

It’s certainly not your fault. Actually, you are a victim of your circadian rhythm – your biologically preferred bedtime is different. As I understand, the day was planned by ‘larks’ in the whole World. I don’t know why. Maybe, the ‘owls’ were still sleeping in the morning when ‘larks’ were planning.

Please, stop blaming yourself.

This is what you can do instead, according to professor Jana Kühnel, her colleagues and Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School (2007):

-Get more light in the morning and during the day and less light in the evening, otherwise there will be a phase delay – shifting in timing to a later hour. The thing is circadian rhythm and it depends on environmental cues of which light is the most important one.

And exposure to blue light (examples are the electronic devices like a tablet, phone, flat-screen television) seems to suppress melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone which makes us feel less alert. Hence, sleep becomes more inviting.

So, ensure you turn on the lights the first time in the morning and have enough access to light during the day. But, stay off-screen; don’t use devices in the early night.

-Avoid caffeine for about 4 to 6 hours before bedtime. Caffeine is found not only in coffee but also in tea, chocolate, cola and some medicines.

-Exercise three hours before the time you usually go to sleep.

-Avoid eating heavy food, soda and sugar before going to sleep.

-Limit bedroom activities to sleep and sex.

TIP: Sleep  8 hours and 15 minutes every night because sleep deprivation causes high cortisol (stress hormone) levels and weight gain especially in the abdominal area.

I started to implement the advice mentioned above a month ago. I would turn on the lights in the morning, I would check my phone (blue lights) in the morning. Like any other change, it was hard, although effective. From the beginning, I was even happy that I was tired early in the evening so I could to sleep earlier.

‘This is working!’ I thought.

But, guess what?

After several days I started missing my old self. I wanted it back. I don’t mind being sleepy in the morning. I like being fresh until the time I go to bed so I can get done with everything I have planned for the day.

So, I don’t turn on lights first thing in the morning anymore. But, I go to bed on time. I try to ensure 8 hours and 15 minutes of sleep every night.

You can also try and find out what you prefer more. It’s up to you. It’s your choice. You can go to bed at the time when you can ensure about 8 hours of sleep. In any case, accept yourself as you are – Unique. 




Kühnel, J., Syrek, C. J., & Dreher, A. (2018). Why Don’t You Go to Bed on Time? A Daily Diary Study on the Relationships between Chronotype, Self-Control Resources and the Phenomenon of Bedtime Procrastination. Frontiers in Psychology,9. DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00077


Photo source: Victoria Heath/unsplash

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