If your to-do list suddenly explodes minutes before bedtime, you could be bedtime procrastinating. Sleep expert Olivia Arezzolo explains this behaviour and how to cut it out.
Sleep: it’s free. And we all want more of it, so why is it so hard to get? Specifically – that consistent, restorative, uninterrupted, eight-hours-a-night kinda sleep. Which is why we’ve enlisted Sydney-based sleep expert Olivia Arezzolo to solve our myriad of sleep concerns with our new editorial series Sleep Well Wednesdays. Check back each week and you’ll be off to the land of nod before you know it.
Have you noticed that come 11pm, there are suddenly 100000 things you’d like to do: watch Netflix, scroll Instagram for holiday inspo, or do household chores?
While it may seem a mystery as to why you suddenly perk up in the late evening, there is a scientific reason behind it: circadian misalignment.
The premise of this concept is that your body clock and external (real-time) clock are out of sync: internally, your melatonin onset has been delayed, limiting your sleepiness. As a result, you naturally want to stay up later.
Like what you see? Sign up to our bodyandsoul.com.au newsletter for more stories like this.
Bedtime procrastination is particularly likely for the wolf chronotype: evidence shows their melatonin onset is later, and consequently, they have a median sleep time of 12:13. Comparatively, lions typically go to sleep at 10:35; and bears will nod off around 11:14.
As 50 percent of your sleep personality is genetically determined, this helps explain why some of us simply ‘can’t fall asleep’ at a ‘reasonable’ time.
That said, there are environmental factors that exacerbate bedtime procrastination and its primary cause of circadian misalignment.
1. Exposure to household light
Light is the main zeitgeber (factor to control your circadian rhythm), so if there’s one reason you’re procrastinating at night, it’s this.
Research shows regular room light from dusk to dawn suppresses sleepiness hormone melatonin by 71 percent.
This means around 11pm, irrespective of chronotype, you’ll find it hard to fall asleep and be naturally inclined to stay up.
2. Screen time
Along similar lines, evidence indicates screen time is detrimental too. Using a phone in the last hour before bed equates to a 48 percent greater likelihood to take over 60 minutes to fall asleep, and using a computer equals a 52 percent higher chance you’ll take 60+ minutes to fall asleep.
And as you know, instead of sleeping, you’re laying in bed restless, thinking about your weekend, work or a catalogue of completely irrelevant, useless topics.
3. You slept in
Delaying your wake time also delays your sleep time – the circadian rhythm operates on a 24-hour cycle.
Research shows just a two-hour sleep-in, e.g. you’re usually up by 6.30 but slept until 8.30, pushes back your circadian cycle by 45 minutes, making it harder for you to fall asleep that night at your regular time.
With respect to chronotypes, this is particularly pertinent to wolves: 68 percent of wolves sleep in for two hours or more when given the opportunity; and compared to lions, they are twice as likely to alter their sleep schedules.
Olivia Arezzolo is a sleep expert who holds a Bachelor of Social Science (Psychology); certificate of Sleep Psychology, diploma of Health Science (Nutritional Medicine); Certificate of Fitness III + IV. You can find her online here.