Hand up if you stay up way too late doing “me time” things instead of sleeping.
(Me, raises hand.)
I wrote about Bedtime Revenge Procrastination a couple of months ago. That post got a lot of attention and sparked some interesting conversations, so I thought it might be time to revisit the idea.
There were so many people who came forward to tell me how much that post resonated with them. There are a lot of people out there who struggle with how to Manage Bedtime Revenge Procrastination. Many of those people are creative night owls who enjoy staying up late, just like me. I have some thoughts on why this might be the case.
In that previous post I wrote about how I’m in recovery from the vicious Bedtime Revenge Procrastination cycle, and gave some ideas on how I’m managing to make the changes. In this post I’ll dive into some small, actionable steps you can start to implement if you want to make the change for yourself too.
But I Like Staying Up Late
Oh, Friend, me too. My best, most creative work time is 11pm-1am.
Creative night owls crave stretches of quiet time when no one needs us. Maybe you’re juggling a family, a day job, attention-seeking pets, a side business, a deep desire to create things, a raging Candy Crush addiction, and everyone being at home all the time.
Ha! That’s my life, in case you’re wondering. Does that make you feel better? You’re not alone, not by far.
Here are my thoughts on why we love to stay up late. If you try to shoe-horn creative time into the daytime hours it just won’t work, it’s way too easy to get pulled away. Other people’s needs on your time become prioritized over your need to ignore them to “selfishly” get things done. You need an hour to practice? Dogs still need to go out, kids still need to be fed. You still have 300 unanswered emails in your inbox, meetings get pushed in.
No reasonable person expects anyone to be up at 11pm doing work, so it’s easy to justify pushing other people’s demands aside to focus on your own needs. So we wander through our day, reacting to the various things brought to us by others, and wait until we know we have a stretch of time for ourselves.
Morning people (not us), may find their stretch of focused time in the morning. These people enjoy getting up before the crack of dawn to spend time on themselves. It’s really not that different. If they’re up at 5am no reasonable person expects anyone to be answering emails at that time. Your dogs may still demand to be let out, though.
The Annoying Culture of Judgment
I’ve been talking to many people these last few weeks about their challenges with implementing a morning routine. Something that keeps coming up is The Annoying Culture of Judgment (as I’m calling it).
Creative night owls stay up late because we are hyper-focused and super productive late at night. We crave this time for ourselves because we need it. We all need this. Some of us just love to do this at night.
No one bats an eye if a morning person says they’re up at 4:00am getting in their 20k run and writing their book chapter or whatever. They are praised for their self-discipline in being able to get up that early. Same for the people who start their workday at 7:30 and finish by 3:00. Yay, good for them.
Let’s say a reasonable amount of sleep for you is 7 hours. If you’re getting up at 4am, you’re going to bed at 9pm. Gosh. That’s prime time. If you’re a performer, under normal circumstances you’re halfway through the second half of the concert, or you’re just arriving at your gig to set up the opening act. That’s work time.
What if we move that 7 hours of sleep to 2am-9am instead. All of a sudden you’re “sleeping in” or “sleeping late”. No one cares that you did your 20km run or cranked out that book chapter or whatever between 11pm and 1am rather than 4am-6am. It’s the same amount of time and the same output, the schedule is just shifted.
But, oh no, the night owl is judged for being lazy and sleeping in.
I [expletive] hate this.
There Is Nothing Wrong With You
Friends, please stop the self-judgment around this. Maybe we creative night owls are in the minority in comparison to the rest of the population. However, I suspect that you may have many other creative night owl friends around you, so maybe you don’t notice this as much. It’s highly possible your nocturnal friends just don’t talk about it for fear of this stupid “early bird gets the worm” judgment thing.
Let’s be abundantly clear. There is nothing wrong with you if you like to stay up late to get things done.
When “Late” becomes “Too Late”
Now that I’ve gotten all that off my chest, let’s look at why someone might want to go about changing the tendency to stay up too late. I’m including the word “too” intentionally here.
Everyone has different daytime schedule demands, just as we all have different things we do during the day, and different reasons for staying up past other people’s bedtimes. Again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of this.
This becomes a problem when “late” becomes “too late”. If your daytime schedule demands that you to be up and at ’em at 7am, and you regularly go to bed at 2am, well, we’re smart people, we can do the math.
Five hours of sleep per night, every night, is probably not sustainable. How many of us reading this post do this anyway, even when we know better? I certainly did, for a very, very long time. In this scenario, 2am is too late. Your 7am wake up is probably non-negotiable. If you need 7 hours of sleep and you have to get up at 7am, well my friend, your lights-out time needs to be midnight. That’s right in the middle of prime work time.
We are intelligent people, we can do math, and we know how sleep deprivation is so very bad for us. And yet we continue to stay up past a reasonable lights-out hour because we crave personal time and have a hard time winding down.
Manage Bedtime Revenge Procrastination: What’s the Answer?
It’s not that easy. We have to look at a bunch of different factors since everything is connected.
- Reasonable amount of sleep
Determine your morning non-negotiable wake-up time, figure out how much sleep you need (not how much you “should” have, it’s individual), and count backwards. If you need 7 hours of sleep and your wake-up time is 7am, then midnight is lights-out time.
- Make your “lights-out” time non-negotiable
This is really, really hard, and this is exactly where the Revenge Bedtime Procrastination kicks in. You get yourself into bed and you don’t know how to turn off your brain, so you play endless rounds of Candy Crush (whoop! I just won unlimited lives for two hours!) or scroll social media, or even dive into your work emails. We know we shouldn’t, but we do.
- Figure out where you get off track
Is it too tempting to use your mobile device as an alarm? Reading a book to wind down but you end up reading the whole thing? Plan to watch one episode of Schitt’s Creek but end up bingeing all of Season 4?
- Intentionally replace the distractions with something else
Once you pinpoint your procrastination trigger find a replacement for it. You can’t just “not do” something and expect that to work, you have to replace the habit with something else. Find a new alarm device. Remove tempting apps from your phone. Replace book bingeing and Schitt’s Creek indulging with gratitude journaling or a short meditation practice.
What Should My Evening Routine Look Like?
Your evening routine should look like however you want it to look. It’s no one’s business but yours what you do with your evening routine. It only needs tweaking if staying up late during your bedtime prep gets in the way of your sleep.
If you find yourself thinking you “should” go to bed – and get up – at a certain time because that’s what “they” recommend, forget it. What makes “them” the expert? Planning to dive right into the 5am wake-up society? Yeah, that’s not going to work for us.
You need to get up when you need to get up. Which means you need to go to sleep when you need to go to sleep. Other than that it’s no one’s business what that looks like.
Should you avoid screens before bed? Probably. But if you’re having success and it involves screens, so what? Should you plan to go to bed at 11 so you can get up at 6 to squeeze in a morning workout? Lol that’s funny. Please, start small. For now just try to get to bed at your personal “lights out” time.
Try this every night for one full week to manage Bedtime Revenge Procrastination:
- figure out your realistic wake-up time
- calculate how much sleep you need
- set your lights-out time
- notice what happens at lights-out time
- if something gets in your way, notice what that is
- find something to replace the obstacle from the previous night
Try it for a full week and see what happens. What I’m hoping will happen is you’ll start getting more sleep. Once you start getting more sleep you’ll be more alert during the day. When you’re more alert during the day you’ll get more done. You’ll have more energy in the evening to put things in place so you can wind down earlier. If you can wind down earlier you’ll have a better chance of maintaining that lights-out time.
It’s not a straight line and I’m no behavioural expert. This is basically how I’m managing my own struggles with Bedtime Revenge Procrastination. Do I stay up too late sometimes? Of course! But it doesn’t happen every single night any more.
Manage Bedtime Revenge Procrastination: Use Your Oils
This is such a great hack and it’s so ridiculously easy to do.
Create an aromatic link to anchor the start of your bedtime routine to help manage Bedtime Revenge Procrastination. Use the same blend every single night, and associate that aroma with a feeling of calm.
Being intentional with that feeling of calm really cranks it up a notch. I always set up and run my diffuser during my evening bathroom routine which involves a bath or shower. If I forget to set up the diffuser during that part of the routine I really notice the difference when trying to wind down at bedtime.
There are so many great oils to support calm before bed. Pick what works for you. Lavender, Cedarwood and Roman Chamomile are obvious ones. dōTERRA has great blends too, like Serenity or Balance. My favourite bedtime blend is 3 drops of Bergamot, 2 drops of Cedarwood, and 1 drop of Marjoram. That one works for me.
Don’t underestimate how well this works. Be consistent and see what happens.
Recognize When You Need Professional Help
There’s a big difference between fixing a sleep issue with behavioural shifts, and knowing when something bigger is going on. Please treat yourself with care and recognize when you might need more help. We can fix behaviours but there are some other conditions that need more support. Be responsible with yourself and get help if you need it.
Try it for a week and let me know how it’s going! Don’t expect miracles, this is a long process but at least this gives you somewhere to start.