Lack of Sleep As A Procrastination Technique And What To Do About It

August 24, 2019

You hacked your sleep but your effectiveness hasn’t improved. Why?

I’ve always been a ‘night owl’ with my best work window from 11PM to 2AM. Lately, I’ve been making some changes in my sleep hours - gradually shifting the time I go to sleep to earlier - around 12AM, as well as wake up a bit earlier - around 6-7AM. I am doing that so that I can get my workouts in (mostly running) before I start the day and so that I wouldn’t have to worry about that all day, trying to fit someting in later in the evening after work.

That said, I don’t think everyone should be an early riser. However, I think we should be getting enough sleep no matter what. Previously, maintaining my “night owl” schedule, I would often go to sleep at 2am or later, but the time I had to wake up at did not change, which just meant that my sleeping window grew smaller. I would only get 5 hours of sleep and often even less. I didn’t feel amazing (obviously) but I would rationalize it by thinking: “Well, at least I don’t waste precious hours of my life on sleeping - I use that time.

There’s almost a romantic quality to the lack of sleep in our culture: the less you sleep, the more busy and determined you are perceived. No one cares about how it affects your health, your mental and emotional state, and even your performance. It’s similar to the romanticized image of a struggling artist, but there is a difference. With a struggling artist, the expectation is that the poor living conditions, lack of money and recognition are temporary things. With sleep, the cultural perception and expectation is that you will keep it up, and you will continue to be respected for that while you do it.

After reflecting on this pattern for a while, I’ve realized that going to sleep very late is just another way I procrastinate; the Resistance has made me believe that it’s a way to succeed - by staying ‘online’ for more hours. In fact, I would waste a lot of time during the evening - not doing any useful work or fun activity (like sports, running, etc.) but instead just ‘passing the time’ and thinking - yes, when it gets late and everything is done for the day, I will start working on that project, that app, etc. Often, I’d work for an hour or 2 and then watch some mindless TV series online. More often than not, it would be all evening of procrastination of the “between activities” time as I call it - chilling on the couch watching Netflix after dinner - “to relax”, and the real work, if ever, would be done in the last half an hour before going to sleep, or worse, be postponed further.

So by sleeping less I didn’t become ‘more productive’ as my brain so seductively convinced me. I would just keep pushing the real work later and later, performing ‘time filler’ activities.

I think this happens to a lot of us - we confuse the metrics that are important with the ones that are not. In this case, what we should care about is: what am I doing every day to get closer to my dreams? Am I working on the projects I care about? Am I improving my health/habits/knowledge/etc?

Instead, we focus on an artificial metric of how much we sleep. “Oh, I feel so bad I slept 9 hours instead of the 7 I planned!” is something one of us might say. Or: “I am only sleeping 4 hours every night!” another person might brag. However, this doesn’t tell us anything about what they do in all the other hours they are awake. It’s easy and comfortable to obsess over something so mechanical like a number of hours slept, instead of facing the real demons of what you are doing the rest of the time.

Everyone has 24 hours a day. There are plenty of people who sleep 8-9 hours and manage to hit all of their goals and make constant progress toward their dreams, and the opposite is true: lots of us sleep sub-optimal amount of time, and still not getting anywhere.

Instead of worrying to much about your sleep hours, consider ways in which you waste time during the day, and you will find plenty. You might say that every minute of your every day is filled with things you have to do. Then ask yourself: do you really “have” to do them? Maybe it’s old commitments that you should drop now? Maybe it’s busy work instead of real work - something comfortable and familiar that takes hours vs something unfamiliar and scary that could take way less and be more effective, but the discomfort scares you out of doing it?

Analyze how you spend your day. It could be effective to record your activities every 30 minutes - for a couple of days in a little log in your notebook. Just ask yourself - “what am I doing at the moment?” and write it down (be honest with yourself). I promise you that you wil be surprised by what you discover. There somewhere lies the time you’ve been lacking.

Personally, I’ve realized the negative impact that behavioural pattern has had on my life so far, and started doing something about it: namely, getting more sleep, and going to sleep earlier than before. Another big factor was memory - for my work and life plans I have to be learning a lot, and remembering. Lack of sleep prevents short term memory from becoming long term (I’ve actually noticed this somewhat in my retention levels).

I’ve been going to sleep earlier for the past couple of months, and going to continue adjusting to that schedule. The plan is to eventually go to sleep at 11PM and sleep until 6AM (thus getting 7 hours of sleep - unheard of for me previously). My mood definitely has improved, and overall I feel better.

P.S. I’ve also started having dreams again - before I guess I slept too little to dream :)

So, after reading this, I hope you will not skimp on sleep tonight! Get some guilt-free shut eye! Then when you wake up, analyze your days and the way you spend your time, and make further changes to improve that - all without sacrificing your sleep!

Alexander Kallaway

Written by Alexander Kallaway Follow me on Twitter