How to Finally Get Yourself to Bed On Time

Pete Ross

Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

You’ve stayed up too late watching Netflix again. You know you shouldn’t, but you just can’t help it. Every day you come home tired from a job that you don’t like much and so of course, you want to maximize your pleasure time. You always watch one or two more episodes than you should, so by the time you finally go to sleep, you wake up with an hour or two less than you should have and feel exhausted as a result.

Ugh, that blaring alarm clock goes off and you drag yourself out of bed, ready to do it all over again.

Sound like you? Clearly, you aren’t alone. Articles and advice on sleep abound all over health blogs and the wider Internet, telling you why you can’t get to sleep, how to have good sleep hygiene, how many hours of sleep to get and so on. None of it seems to help though. That’s because it doesn’t address the core issue of why people are staying up late in the first place.

It’s similar to why people eat junk food. Sure, there is conflicting dietary advice out there, but when you get down to the nuts and bolts of it, everyone knows that fast food and soda isn’t good for them, but they consume it anyway. It’s not a knowledge problem, it’s a compliance problem. You know you shouldn’t stay up late, but you do anyway. The question is, why? I have a hypothesis…

It’s because in terms of day to day life satisfaction and happiness, you’re living in poverty.

It’s the same problem we see with people who are living in monetary poverty and can’t seem to pull themselves out of it. They buy alcohol, cigarettes, lottery tickets and any number of other “frivolities,” when if they saved that money instead, they could break the cycle and move upwards in life.

This ignores the psychological reality, however, which is that “people who live on tight budgets are going to grasp at any pleasure they can find, in the hope of securing something for themselves in an unkind world.” Spending that money, it turns out, is a coping mechanism for their current financial predicament. Unfortunately it just exacerbates the problem and continues the cycle. They don’t know when or if they are going to have the chance at pleasure again, so they take it every chance they can get.

Now let’s look at your sleep situation. Why are you staying up late watching Netflix, or drinking, or gaming? It’s a coping mechanism because you dislike your job, you feel like you’re going nowhere and every day is a zombie like haze of just grinding through. So once you’ve done what you have to do to survive, you try and fill every available minute afterwards with something pleasurable and if it happens to keep you up too late, well screw it, you don’t like going to work anyway, so what does it matter if you feel tired?

Can you see the problem here? Just as the spending on cigarettes and frivolities rather than saving keeps people poor, you continuously staying up late ensures that you always feel like garbage during the day. Feeling like garbage makes you keep wanting to use your free hours feeling good. It’s another vicious cycle. That cycle likely extends into your eating habits, because when you’re tired and your willpower is low, you’re more likely to eat things that aren’t good for you but give you that spike of pleasure because they taste so good.

When you think about the Sunday night existential crisis so many go through every single week, it begs the question: if you weren’t tired (and possibly hungover) right now because you’d been treating your body and mind well, would you be having this crisis? Or would the world actually be a lot more tolerable, because you have the energy to deal with it?

That’s why simply wanting to go to bed earlier probably isn’t enough to remedy the situation. You need to recognise deep down why you’re not going to bed early in the first place and come to grips with it. I think you’re far more likely to be successful with your sleep if you can admit to yourself that you’re in a bad cycle and you need to pull yourself out of it so you can enjoy life again. That’s going to be more effective than telling yourself “I should go to bed.”

Future you needs to take control

Think about how good you feel in the morning on a Saturday or Sunday, when you’ve been able to roll out of bed without an alarm and with plenty of sleep. You feel happier and the world seems an entirely different place. You probably even look forward to it during the week when you’re sleep deprived. You fondly imagine how nice it’s going to be, snuggled up in bed and not having to go anywhere.

This is where future you and past you need to gang up on present you and take the reigns.

Past you knows how great you feel when you’ve had enough sleep, and how crappy you feel when you haven’t. Future you knows that you’ll feel crappy again tomorrow if present you is allowed control over decision making at 10pm on a weeknight. Future you knows that the sacrifice of a little pleasure right now will mean a much more pleasant tomorrow.

This is where I think people come unstuck. They don’t listen to the future version of themselves, or they do it in a very limited capacity. They might think of tomorrow and not care about being tired. But what about if you extended that out weeks, months, years. What if you allowed future you to consider the possibility that this will continue until you’re retired?

I imagine the thought of being tired and crabby for years or even decades is terrifying — it should be.

So now that I’ve terrified you, let’s reverse it and start really small. Imagine what it would feel like if you could get to the end of your week at work having felt rested and alert the entire time. How would your day to day life change?

Well for starters, you’d get through your work more quickly and effectively. Jan from accounts wouldn’t be anywhere near as annoying. You’d have the willpower to eat a bit healthier, which would in turn make you feel even better. You wouldn’t feel exhausted, crabby and resentful when you get home at the end of the day, because you have some energy left over.

All of a sudden because of this one change, multiple things in your life start cascading in a positive direction.

Ponder that carefully and think just how different your life might be if you started making that one choice every night to turn off the screen and get to bed on time. And when you are tempted to watch just another episode, play another game, or scroll another social media account, ask yourself if that’s worth you hating your life.

And then turn the damn thing off, and go to bed.

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I write about career, performance, psychology, self development and business humour. I'm an author, former national competitor in judo and strongman and a former military instructor.


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