BETWEEN the kids, work and just trying to get a moment to yourself, life is just so busy.
But the reality of fitting everything in has sparked a new sleep epidemic called ‘revenge bedtime procrastination’.
We've all been there, catching up on Whatsapp after dinner in front of Netflix or frantically putting a late night wash on because we've run out of underwear for tomorrow.
Life is more time-strapped than ever and juggling social obligations alongside a career, catch-up phone calls and walking the dog seems more impossible than ever.
Dr Lindsay Browning, psychologist, neuroscientist and sleep expert for And So To Bed, has noticed the shift.
“People [are] finding it hard to go to bed at the right time because they feel they need to have some time for themselves in the evening,” she says.
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It’s an issue that’s been magnified by the pandemic as the lines between work and home life became unrecognisable.
Browning warns that without nipping it in the bud, it could become a more permanent problem.
“When you start getting into the habit of going to bed later than you need, your body and your circadian rhythm (your body's sleep/wake cycle) start to move when you feel sleepy a bit later, making it harder to go to sleep earlier on the nights when you do want to go to bed early to catch up on sleep.”
THE TWILIGHT ZONE
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Going to bed later than you planned is something we can all relate to and Browning believes there's a rebellious streak to our nightly to-do list.
“If you have spent your whole day working for someone else's needs or compromising on what shows do you watch on TV, then you can feel hard done by to go to bed without having done the things you really wanted to,” she says.
“Therefore, last thing at night when everyone else has gone to bed can feel like perfect 'me' time without having to compromise.”
While we may feel those post-work hours hold promise for productivity, an increasingly later bedtime can begin to wreak havoc on our physical and mental health, leaving us frazzled and unproductive in the long run.
THE COST OF PRODUCTIVITY
Aside from the morning-after regret of not turning in at a decent hour, not getting enough shuteye can cause a vicious cycle of productivity – the last thing we need when there's so much to do.
“When we don’t get the right amount of sleep, this has consequences on both our physical and mental health,” Browning says.
“People who don’t get the right amount of sleep tend to have higher frequencies of depression and anxiety, higher rates of heart disease and stroke, greater risk of diabetes and obesity, higher risk of getting dementia and certain types of cancers plus a reduced immune system.
“Also your reaction times and ability to make decisions are also compromised after a poor night’s sleep.
“Even though sleep can feel like a waste of time, it's actually when your body regenerates and repairs and it is imperative for us to get enough sleep so that we are able to function at a peak level during the day.”
In short, revenge bedtime procrastination is what we call a false economy and is not ideal when almost one in five people in the UK aren't getting enough sleep.
SLOW DOWN TO SPEED UP
The good news is, it is doable to win at life while getting some much-needed slumber.
Dr Philip Clarke, Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Derby believes it begins with prioritising and letting go of hustle culture.
“Unfortunately, no matter how much planning or strategising you do, you will only ever have 24 hours in a day at your disposal,” says Clarke.
“Humans are one of the only species on this earth who actively choose not to sleep when they are tired.
“Refocusing on energy, rather than time management allows you to capitalise on the time you have for each task.
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“Start with the time you need to get up in the morning and work backwards to work out what your ideal bedtime is,” Clarke says.
“The aim is to work in 15 minutes blocks, so, if you usually go to bed at 11 o’clock, aim to go to bed at 10.45pm and try that for a week or two.
“Then keep working back until you get to your ideal bedtime to get the appropriate number of hours of sleep.”
Keep weekends free
“Ensure your weekends are as free from commitments as possible so that you get plenty of ‘me’ time,” advises Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic.
“You want to find a balance between the things you have to do vs what you do simply for fun and enjoyment.”
Focus on sleep during the week
“It's a myth that you will catch up on sleep at the weekend,” Clarke says.
“If you’re losing ten hours of sleep a week (two hours a night), you’re unlikely to sleep an extra ten hours over the weekend, on top of your normal sleep.”
Monitor the problem
“Identify that this is a behaviour you engage in and start monitoring it,” Touroni says. “Consider what your ideal bedtime would be that also allows space for pleasurable activities.”
Take a break
“Take regular breaks during the working day to check in with yourself, what you have left to do in the day and what you need to prioritise,” Touroni suggests.
“It’s important to reflect on the five key areas of our life that provides us with energy: nutrition (are we eating enough and eating the right types of food to fuel us effectively?), physical activity (are we physically active?), sleep (do we wake up feeling energised?), downtime (do we have time in the day for us?), hydration (are we drinking enough fluids?).
“This results in working more productively and efficiently when you feel energised, rather than trying to focus and be efficient at a time you or your energy is low.
“The latter often leads to procrastinating, not being productive and then beating yourself up about your lack of productivity.
“This becomes a cycle of feeling like you’re surviving, which will lead you to feel demotivated and de-energised, which can have negative implications on your mental health and wellbeing.”
One of the most important lessons Clarke teaches is the importance of ‘slowing down to speed up’.
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“This means prioritising your input of energy (by sleeping, having downtime etc.) to allow you to have greater output (energy in tasks, productivity etc.).
“My clients report experiencing happier, more productive, and overall, increasingly more positive work and home lifestyles,” he says. Amen to that!
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