How Late Night Boredom Can Lead to Bedtime Procrastination… and Wreck Your Sleep

Photo: Getty Images/ JGI/Jamie Grill
An annoying, if unsurprising, truth: Plenty of emotional states of being can affect how easily you fall asleep and the quality of sleep you get. For just a few examples, stress and anxiety can have you tossing and turning, as can being excited about something big happening the next day. But you might be surprised to learn that a total lack of stimulation—á la late night boredom—can have a similarly disruptive impact on sleep, even if for entirely different reasons.

A 2021 study found that being bored can lead to bedtime procrastination1, or putting off when you actually go to bed, which can lead to poorer sleep quality overall.

Experts In This Article

But if you’re so bored, and it’s currently at or past your typical bedtime, why not just... go to bed? Well, it turns out being bored can make you less aware and attentive of that simple reality and more prone to the kinds of distractions that will have you wired rather than tired. Below, sleep experts explain how late night boredom can lead you to put off sleep, as well as other reasons for bedtime procrastination, plus how to overcome the habit and nix sleep disruptions.

How late night boredom causes bedtime procrastination

In the study noted above, researchers assessed levels of boredom proneness, mind wandering, and fidgeting, as well as sleep quality in 270 people, and found that higher levels of such boredom indicators were correlated with poorer sleep quality. To explain that association, the researchers also identified two meditators: inattention and bedtime procrastination.

“Our study tested a model that drew links from boredom to inattention, and from inattention to bedtime procrastination, and subsequently sleep quality—and the results confirmed the model,” says social psychologist Ai Ni Teoh, PhD, lead author of the study. “This suggests that people who are bored find it hard to concentrate, meaning they may not pay attention to their bedtime if they’re bored at night, which could lead to delaying bedtime.” The result? Poorer sleep quality, says Dr. Teoh, which can eventually lead to mental and physical health issues.

“People who are bored find it hard to concentrate, meaning they may not pay attention to their bedtime if they’re bored at night, which could lead to delaying bedtime.” —Ai Ni Teoh, PhD, social psychologist

While Dr. Teoh says the study didn't include what the participants did when they were bored and choosing not to go to bed, she and sleep psychologist Rebecca Robbins, PhD, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, both have a pretty good hunch: watching TV or scrolling social media. (After all, boredom proneness goes hand-in-hand with social media usage2.)

“At the end of the day, our willpower is depleted,” Dr. Robbins says. “We have been making decisions and processing information all day, so we are less able to self-regulate and prioritize healthy choices, like keeping our consistent bedtime routine.” Throw in late night boredom, and it’s no wonder you might grab your phone and start scrolling… and before you know it, it’s 1:00 a.m.

What is the psychology behind bedtime procrastination?

So, late night boredom can certainly lead to bedtime procrastination by essentially making you more distractible. The more bored (and less attentive) you are, the more likely you are to get caught in a doom-scroll spiral, for example, unwittingly putting off your bedtime in the process.

But another cause of bedtime procrastination happens more purposefully—by way of something called revenge bedtime procrastination. The term refers to when you “intentionally delay your bedtime to engage in activities that you deem more enjoyable,” says board-certified sleep specialist Angela Holliday-Bell, MD, sleep expert for the sleep-tech brand Helight.

The psychology behind revenge bedtime procrastination has to do with getting “revenge” for how busy you are during the day by carving out time late at night (past your optimal bedtime) to do the things you want to do. This can involve binge-watching TV shows, scrolling on social media, reading—really any form of entertainment you didn’t have time for during the day.

“At night, when we’re not at work or under the demands of others, we often feel like we can be direct agents of our time,” says neuroscientist and psychiatrist Dave Rabin, MD, PhD, co-founder of sleep-tech brand Apollo Neuro. “We use that time to feel more in control.”

The problem is, taking control over those late-night hours often means choosing to fill them with anything but sleep… even when you know that sleep is what you really need. “People get so absorbed in the activity they choose that they lose track of time, and then it’s one to two hours past their bedtime,” explains clinical psychologist and sleep specialist Michael Breus, PhD.

Who’s most affected by bedtime procrastination?

If you’re a person who needs a good deal of stimulation to feel satisfied, chances are you’ve encountered your fair share of late night boredom, perhaps leading you to seek out activities that wind up delaying your bedtime. The same goes if you’re someone whose optimal productivity happens at nighttime, says Dr. Rabin. (This means you probably have a night-owl chronotype, or circadian rhythm pattern.) Maybe that’s just when you wind up wanting to get stuff done or be creative or do something enjoyable… anything but sleep.

Those who have their entire days sucked up by work or obligations to other people are also more likely to be affected by bedtime procrastination—and that almost always includes parents, says Dr. Holliday-Bell. “That’s because after work, they tend to have a host of other childcare duties that take the remainder of their time in the evenings,” she says. “That leaves what should be their bedtime as the only time they have left to indulge in other activities.” Cue the bedtime procrastination.

What are the consequences of bedtime procrastination?

Whether it’s late night boredom or a desire to reclaim time for yourself that’s keeping you up into the wee hours of the night, bedtime procrastination can certainly affect your health.

“Most people who engage in any kind of bedtime procrastination end up getting less sleep than is required to meet their health needs,” says Dr. Holliday-Bell. “This leads to sleep deficiency, which can affect everything from your cardiovascular health to your diabetes risk.” That’s not all. Because sleep loss is connected with mental health issues, over time, sleep procrastination can also up your risk for developing depression and anxiety, she says.

“Most people who engage in any kind of bedtime procrastination end up getting less sleep than is required to meet their health needs.” —Angela Holliday-Bell, MD, board-certified sleep specialist

In the more immediate term, not getting enough sleep means “you’re not giving your body the chance to recover properly, both physically and mentally, which can increase your chances of burnout, irritability, fogginess, and fatigue,” says Dr. Rabin.

Speaking of irritability, bedtime procrastination can also affect your relationships: “People tend to have shorter fuses and become more easily frustrated when they aren’t getting enough sleep,” says Dr. Holliday-Bell. So keep that in mind the next time you stay up late scrolling, too.

How to prevent sleep procrastination

1. Add more “me” time into your day

If you’re staying up late at night in order to do things you would’ve wanted to do during the day, it’s worth considering how to fit more “me” time into your daytime schedule, says Dr. Holliday-Bell—even if that’s just five minutes here and there.

“The key is to actually schedule things you enjoy during the day so that you don’t feel like nighttime, when you should be asleep, is the only time you have to do those things,” she says. That could just mean penciling in time for a short walk or some online shopping, or listening to your favorite audiobook or playlist while cooking or eating dinner.

2. Reframe the way you think about your bedtime and sleep

While your “me” time can involve a long list of enjoyable activities, Dr. Holliday-Bell says your bedtime routine should be one of them. So, aim to create a sleep-friendly environment that’ll actually put you in the mood to sleep—versus leaving your sleep on the back burner.

“Sleep is one of the best forms of self care and should be looked at as an investment in your well-being,” says Dr. Holliday-Bell. When your bedtime routine becomes a way to indulge in that self care, it’ll become something to look forward to, rather than put off.

3. Allow your mind to wander throughout the day

Dealing with late night boredom in particular? When you're bored, you're more easily distracted. And in that state, you're more likely to put off going to bed. But here's the thing: Dr. Robbins says it's not bad to be bored, in general. “After all, we cannot sustain a razor-sharp focus for protracted periods of time,” she says. Reducing the impact of boredom on sleep just comes down to indulging your boredom during the day rather than late at night.

That means working a few activities into your daytime schedule that can let your mind wander freely. Some examples: cooking, putting away dishes, and folding clothes.

It's also important to give yourself this type of mental break ahead of hitting the hay; otherwise, your thoughts about work or other obligations could keep you awake. “Before bed, mind wandering can help you separate from your planned, regimented, and focused day, and shift into a state of mind that’s more conducive to sleep,” says Dr. Robbins.

4. Squeeze in some exercise during the day

Daytime exercise can play a huge role in helping you wind down at night—especially if your days tend to involve a good deal of stress, or you’re also coping with insomnia. “When we don’t get [our anxiety] out, it accumulates, so when we try to fall asleep, our bodies are still feeling pent up with restlessness and energy,” says Dr. Rabin. And in that state, you’re just far more likely to put off sleep in favor of some late night scrolling (womp womp).

To move anxiety out of the body and better ensure you’re ready to sleep when the time comes, Dr. Rabin suggests getting your heart rate up each day, even for just 15 to 30 minutes.

5. Set a bedtime alarm

Newsflash: Alarms aren’t just for waking up; they can also be for going to sleep. According to Dr. Holliday-Bell, setting a bedtime alarm can be key in preventing sleep procrastination. When it goes off, it’ll be a clear reminder that it’s time to start your bedtime routine—which can keep you from going down the binge-watching or doom-scrolling rabbit hole, she says.

4 tips that will help you get enough sleep

Ready to sleep like a baby? When you follow these expert-approved strategies for better sleep, you’ll be more likely to avoid sleep procrastination and drift off easily.

1. Wake up at the same time every day

While setting a consistent bedtime is important, one of the best strategies for better sleep is having a consistent wake-up time (yes, even on the weekends), says Dr. Holliday-Bell. “This entrains your circadian rhythm to send alerting signals at the same time each morning, which can then lead to sleepiness cues arriving around the same time each night.”

2. Develop a relaxing bedtime routine—and start it early

Is your nighttime routine pure chaos? That’ll pave the way for bedtime procrastination and poor sleep quality.

Instead, strive for consistency, says Dr. Holliday-Bell. “Not only does a consistent routine help you to transition from the stress of the day to the stillness of the night, but also, it can be protective against stress that might otherwise interfere with your ability to fall asleep.”

To develop that routine, consider how you can create a sleep-friendly environment. “For instance, light a candle, turn the lights low, take a warm shower, and download a smartphone app that can ease you to sleep with soothing activities, stories, or mindfulness exercises,” suggests Dr. Robbins. (There are plenty of free sleep apps that are audio-only—meaning, no screen use required.) You might also try walking before bed for a better night’s sleep. Bottom line: Whatever it is that helps you leave the stressors of the day behind, go for it.

Also, start this routine early—ideally, 60 minutes before your bedtime if you’re also coping with insomnia, says Dr. Robbins. Still want time to scroll social media? Cool. Just do it before your hour-long wind-down begins so that you reserve this whole time for shifting into sleep mode.

3. Skip the afternoon caffeine

Your mid-afternoon coffee might feel like a great pick-me-up, but that caffeine is only going to keep you up when you have it too late in the day. “If you find yourself having multiple cups of coffee every day…that can result in chronic sleep deprivation, which causes poor functioning,” says Dr. Rabin.

If you want to improve your sleep quality, cut down on sleep disturbances, and reduce your chances of engaging in bedtime procrastination, Dr. Breus recommends not drinking any caffeine after 12 p.m. “Caffeine has a half-life of six to eight hours and can certainly affect your sleep even past the point at which you’re feeling its effects,” he says. In the afternoon and evening, go for a rest-inducing drink instead, like chamomile tea.

4. Get rid of (most) of your devices in the bedroom

For the best sleep, you’ll want to do away with digital devices (namely your phone, laptop, and TV) at least an hour before bed, says Dr. Robbins. Doing so, she says, is the antithesis to the boredom that can lead to sleep procrastination. “If we keep our routines consistent, we fall asleep faster, into better quality sleep,” she says.

There are a few exceptions to this rule. First, the aforementioned audio-based apps can provide mindfulness exercises that put you to sleep sans screen. Second, a sunrise alarm clock (like the Hatch 2 Restore) can act as a phone-free way to create a sleep-friendly environment (one equipped with sleep stories, relaxing sounds, and mood lighting, no less). And sleep-enhancing devices like the Apollo Neuro, which can deliver soothing low-frequency vibrations to your wrist, can help you drift off more easily.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Teoh, Ai N. “Boredom Affects Sleep Quality: The Serial Mediation Effect of Inattention and Bedtime Procrastination.” Personality and Individual Differences, vol. 171, 2021,
  2. Whelan, E., et al. “Is Boredom Proneness Related to Social Media Overload and Fatigue? A Stress-strain-outcome Approach.” Internet Research, 2020,

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