It happened again. I feel as though a truck ran over me while I was sleeping. My brain is more like a blob of porridge than a block of well-functioning neurons. I’m uninspired, moody, and, of course, tired.
The reason is something I’ve been struggling with for quite some time: Going to bed earlier. Or, what’s often worse, I go to bed on time but stay awake for hours, distracting myself with my phone.
And honestly, this is a highly underrated problem. Everyone talks about how to fall asleep. How to sleep well. And sure, that’s important. But what’s the use of trivialities like the ideal bedroom temperature if you can’t get yourself to go to bed in the first place?
I think the simplest way to improve your sleep is to go to bed earlier. If you master this one habit, everything else will almost automatically fall in place.
So for once, I used my late-night hours productively instead of binging them away on YouTube. And here’s the result: Two underlying reasons why we go to sleep later than we should — and three practical ways to fix that.
Why We Sleep Later Than We Should
It’s a deeply strange phenomenon. We know what we should do. We know the magical benefits of sleep. And we know that we need it to survive. “The shorter your sleep,” Matthew Walker writes in Why We Sleep, “the shorter your life span.”
And yet, we resist. Why is that?
Part of the reason is that we’re wired to do what feels good in the moment. We sacrifice our future well-being for momentary pleasure. In other words, we procrastinate on sleep.
By doing this, we often create a negative feedback loop of thoughts and beat ourselves up about not doing the right thing. Psychologists call this the intention-behavior gap. So what we really need to answer is why we keep bridging this gap with stubborn ignorance.
Here are two underlying reasons.
#1 Revenge bedtime procrastination
Everything in daylight is so busy. The phone is ringing, cars are honking, and people are everywhere. At night, however, we finally get some quiet time. To shut down. To follow our interests. To do whatever we want.
“That’s common for people having long hours at work (doing things they don’t like). Typical 8 to 8 in office, arrive home after dinner and shower it’s 10pm, probably won’t just go to sleep and repeat the same routine. A few hours of ‘own time’ is necessary to survive.”
And so, late-night hours become the metaphorical crowbar in our quest to steal back time. They’re a tool to force open a door that should remain closed.
This coincides with another obvious problem: The Internet.
There’s so much entertainment at our fingertips. And, for some annoying reason, that becomes particularly exciting when we’re lying in bed with the lights off. My best guess? It’s because, suddenly, there’s nothing to do. Falling asleep is boring. And in an age of constant distractions, that’s not something we’re used to anymore.
#2 Childhood cravings
Another perspective comes from the School of Life who approach this topic with a fascinating question: “What might we be trying to achieve by staying up late?”
The answer: As we grew older, staying up late had been a glamorous event — especially because it resembled an act of rebellion.
I still remember the thrill of watching a prime-time movie in full length (which never ended before 11 pm). The same dopamine dose pumped through my veins when I was secretly playing with Legos under my covers or quietly listening to my favorite song on repeat.
These days, however, most nights lost their charm. I’m way more productive and focused during the day. In fact, I only feel like myself in the blazing sunlight. It flushes out all the gooey brain fog.
But unfortunately, the toxic mindset still keeps me awake: Pulling an all-nighter is something cool. Staying up late is a brave act of rebellion.
3 Steps to Go to Bed Earlier
To be clear, the solutions I’m looking for don’t revolve around the question of how to fall asleep or how to sleep better. Because, again, most of us have internalized the traditional advice:
- Avoid caffeine.
- Have a bedtime routine.
- Switch off devices before bed.
Instead, we should find out how to actually apply these things. How to align our intentions with our behaviors. And how to go to bed earlier.
Here are the three steps to do that.
Activate your conscience
Procrastination is your short-term thinking mode, your monkey mind taking over control. And that’s completely natural. Beating yourself up about it will only make it worse. But one thing you can try is this thought experiment by author Gretchen Rubin:
“Remind yourself how great it feels to wake up naturally, before the alarm goes off, without that sickening jolt into wakefulness. Then, when you’re surfing the internet at 11:30 p.m., ask yourself, ‘Am I making a good trade-off?’”
Am I making a good trade-off? That’s not a bad quote to pin on your wall. And as someone who loves the morning hours with their miraculous scents and lights, this prompt alone gets me most of the time. Even if I had a long day and I’m desperate for some downtime, a good night’s rest wins the race.
I’ve found that self-discipline drastically improves when you shift your focus from what you lose (a few hours of cheap entertainment) to what you gain (improved mood, waking up refreshed, more productive mornings, to name a few).
All it takes is one question that triggers decisive action.
Deploy commitment devices
The second step to beating bedtime procrastination is to make healthy long-term decisions while you’re still clear-minded. The idea behind this is a commitment device.
For instance, my intention is to go to bed by 10 pm so I can be sure that I’ll be asleep by 11 pm. So one of my commitment devices is an alarm at 9:30 pm that tells me to switch off all of my devices. There’s also a note I set up with the alarm: “If you do this right now, you’ll sleep a lot better, and you know it.”
As a backup, I installed an app blocker that completely prevents my access to YouTube and other shenanigans between 10 pm and 8 am.
The mechanism is always the same: Make one difficult decision now to eliminate hundreds of temptations later on.
When setting up your commitment device, a great framework is the 20-second rule. This says: If it takes you more than 20 seconds of friction to access a habit, you won’t do it.
What does that look like? You could put your phone in a place you can only reach with a stool. Or leave your laptop in your trunk after coming home from work. Get creative. How you design your environment is how you design your behaviors.
Now here’s the interesting part: This rule also works the other way around. Which brings us to the last point.
Turn your bed into a magnet
When I trigger my conscience and have my commitment devices in place, I’m like, “Fine, let’s go to bed. It’s the reasonable thing to do.” But this last trick actually makes me look forward to going to bed.
The idea is to turn your bedroom into a temple of retreat. Lay out pillows with soothing designs, stack your favorite books on the nightstand, light up a candle before bedtime — do whatever you need to make your bed irresistible.
In other words, lower the friction. Ask yourself: What can I change about my bed(room) that’d draw me in like a magnet?
One of the things that works best for me is to put an enticing novel on my pillow that I’m only allowed to read when I go to sleep. Often, I spend entire evenings thinking about my bed because I’m so excited to plunge back into the story. Then, when I read it under the dim lights, I fall asleep almost immediately.
If this doesn’t work for you, plan something exciting to do first thing in the morning. Again, it could be reading a thrilling book, going for a walk, or preparing a delicious breakfast.
The great thing about going to sleep early is that you don’t lose any time. You store it for one of the most magical times of the day: The crack of dawn.
Why It Gets Easier
All this reminds me of the time when I had terrible eating habits, ranging from ready-made soups to skipping meals altogether. Nowadays, I’m proud to say I keep a healthy diet. I cook almost daily with fresh, nourishing ingredients. And the best part? Fast food, candy, and sodas don’t even tempt me anymore because I know how awful they’ll make me feel.
Of course, I didn’t get there overnight. It evolved like all worthwhile endeavors in life: one day at a time.
In this sense, I’m convinced that going to bed early does get easier. Because the more you practice it, the more you’ll realize the benefits:
The beauty of shifting your’ own time’ from gloomy darkness to golden mornings. The satisfaction of following through on your intentions. And the incredible mood booster you gain from giving your body what it needs most — a good dose of rejuvenating sleep.