It’s that time of the year when we all start thinking about the new year (and the new decade) and all the things we’re looking forward to, the things we hope to accomplish, and of course, the things we’d like to change. Initially, I was going to write out a list of New Year’s resolutions about fitness, diet, writing on this blog at least twice a week, etc, etc. But then I thought of one thing that I felt has plagued me for nearly the entirety of the last decade—
I’m not an insomniac, I don’t consume caffeine with any type of regularity (like less than one caffeinated drink per month), and it doesn’t usually take me more than half an hour to fall asleep. And yet, I always, always, always, find myself going to sleep later than I would like. Scientists at Utrecht University in the Netherlands have coined this Bedtime Procrastination. I’d say that’s a fairly accurate term.
The most interesting thing about bedtime procrastination is that it doesn’t necessarily stem from the “usual culprits” like too much caffeine or infinite social media scrolling. Kids do the whole bedtime procrastination thing too, in fact, they practically invented it. And that’s the thing about bedtime procrastination, it’s less about not wanting to go to sleep (who doesn’t love sleep?) and more about having to stop whatever it is we’re doing. For little kids, bedtime means no more playtime because that’s pretty much all little kids do. For us big kids, bedtime means no more working, no more cleaning up the house, no more tackling our endless to-do lists, no more binge-watching or scrolling, no more watching or reading the news, no more “me time,” etc.
I know on a personal level that as a little kid, sleep was always something I did when there was nothing else to do. If I was bored, I get in bed and sleep. If I was sad because mom left for work for the night (which was multiple times per week, obviously) and there was no one for me to play with, I’d sleep. I also got my first “smart device,” an iPod touch 5th gen, and my first cell phone, a blue Intensity II slider, in 8th grade. I would’ve just turned 13 at the time. And of course, those kept me up late at night too.
So from a young age, I’ve conditioned myself to view sleep as a last resort, something to do when there’s nothing else to do or something to do when I feel sad. Using sleep as a “last resort” works great when you’re a kid in elementary school prior to 2012, before smartphones and social media were as ubiquitous for young kids as they were now. Prior to 2012, we didn’t have any streaming services in the house and my family has never had cable TV. Ever. Only the basic channels that you can get for free with an antenna. We had VHS tapes and DVDs and of course, physical real estate demands that you can only have so many of those in your home so there were no infinite streaming options to stay up and watch TV and movies. If I wanted to watch a new movie, I had to wait to be taken to the library. My family also only had one desktop computer, no iPad or iPhone or anything. And it was slow. So when you’re a kid without all this modern smart technology, there will eventually come a point in your day when there is nothing else to do.
But as an adult, there’s always something left to do! The to-do list never ends.
Even before the conditioning and addictive mechanisms of social media and smart technology, my relationship was sleep was already fucked up. So once I got my first cell phone and iPod touch, things just devolved from there. I honestly cannot remember a time when I went to bed consistently at a “decent time” (ie before 11pm) except prior to 8th grade. It’s been the better part of a decade that I’ve been dealing with this and this is why it’s my one and only (official) New Year’s Resolution of 2020.
Obviously, there are a lot of other good habits I want to form in 2020. But getting to sleep before 11 PM and waking up before 8 AM is my top priority. I have a suspicion that when I get my sleep right, a lot of other things will fall into place too, simply because of what “getting my sleep right” will require.
Reframing My Relationship with Technology
Of course, the first thing to go will need to be excessive technology use which I’ve been working on a lot over the past few months. The only things that have worked for me have been letting my bestie set my password for Apple’s ScreenTime remotely via family sharing and using Cold Turkey for my computer. This way, there is no way for me to override the blocks and use the screens longer than what’s already been set up.
I also want to make it a point not to use any devices (laptop, phone, etc) in bed at all. Today is my first day of trying this and instead of writing this post in my bed, I’m sitting in a chair at my desk, which honestly, I haven’t used in a while. I know sleep experts say to keep technology out of bed or out of the bedroom entirely for better sleep and I think it’s extra important for me considering that I’ve been using tech in bed since middle school. Hopefully, this will “de-condition” me from associating my bed with tech and mental stimulation so I can start associating it more with sleep. I’d like to keep things out of my room altogether but I’m moving in to a shared apartment soon so that’s not going to be possible for me.
And in order to make sure that I can’t use my computer in bed, I thought about “downgrading” from a laptop to an actual stationary desktop that well, stays on my desk. I know this kind of goes against my 2020 No Buy and I don’t have the money for a new computer right now anyways, but I’ve been tossing the idea around in my head. I’ve already had the network adapter and screen on my current laptop fixed this year so if this computer needs any more repairs, I’m getting a new one. Hopefully, it can at least get me until the end of 2020. I guess it would technically violate the No Buy if I get a new one before then but I’m not going to sink any more money into it than I already have. I’ve learned my lesson about buying cheap computers.
It feels weird to consider replacing my laptop with a stationary computer but I like questioning the status quo. I think most people have laptops. Sure, they may have a desktop at home too, but a laptop is considered essential. I got my current one before going to university. But looking back, I’m sure I could’ve survived without one. Yes, it was cheaper and easier to have the textbooks as a free PDF on your computer while in class, and I think I may have needed my computer once in class for a quiz (or was that a take-home quiz?) but I think it would’ve been manageable. Like if I really absolutely could not have afforded to get this computer, I would’ve survived by taking notes by hand, looking on with a neighbor in class, and using the school’s library. I probably would’ve paid attention more in class if I wrote notes by hand too. Maybe I wouldn’t have failed my accounting final…
Sure, it would’ve been inconvenient at times but, at least as a freshman, I could’ve done it. I don’t think having a mobile computer is as essential as most people think. Personally, aside from when I was at university, my computer never leaves my house. The only time it does is when I travel but even then, it rarely gets used. I could get on just as well with using the computers at the local library. Most people, I think, don’t travel enough to warrant a laptop instead of a desktop. And if you think you do, do you really? Or do you have a conflated sense of self-esteem and busyness that makes you think you do? Think about it. How often has your computer left your house in the last month? Not how often would it, in a perfect world, sometime in the future if and when XYZ happens and you have time to relax at that cute little cafe down the street. In the last month. I know for me, the answer to that is once, and only because I was going out of town, and I didn’t even use it while I was away.
So at this stage in my life, I don’t need a mobile computer. That may change in the future but one of the many things I’ve learned from minimalism is that buying or holding on to things “just in case” for some hypothetical future isn’t healthy for me. Besides, cell phones are basically little computers anyways. You can use Word, Excel, and Powerpoint on them with OneDrive or 365 if you really do need to work on the go occasionally. That’s another great thing about modern technology, you can use it as a virtual storage space rather than a physical storage space and cloud services let you access your work just about anywhere.
The Art of Non-Finishing
The second thing about going to bed on time is that some things are going to be left unfinished. And we need to be ok with that. Like I said before when you’re a little kid in the pre-smartphone era, you will eventually run out of things to do with yourself and go to bed. But as an adult, with or without a smartphone, there will always be something else to do.
The Art of Non-Finishing is a term I stole from The 4 Hour Work Week. The premise behind the term is that it’s ok to leave some things unfinished in order to save time. In the book, the examples used are leaving a bad movie instead of staying in the theater to watch or not finishing a book once you’ve learned what you needed to or it bores you. This concept can apply to anything. If I want to get to bed on time, some things will need to be left unfinished. Assuming I prioritize correctly, the things that go unfinished won’t be the most important things like homework or meal prep. But other things will need to wait until the morning. For me, that may mean the laundry goes undone or unfolded, a blog post doesn’t get published immediately, or a YouTube video has to wait until the next day. What you leave unfinished will look different for you. Maybe the kids’ toys don’t get picked up and the dishes stay in the sink.
I recently had my own experience when I should’ve taken my own advice. I purchased some meditation mp3 downloads the other day but the files were broken. By the time it was evening and I realized this, it was bedtime anyway. But instead of accepting that I could email the seller in the morning, I wanted the files now. So I did everything I could think of to try and fix the files. I had to break out my old laptop, which is painfully slow, in order to circumvent the Cold Turkey blocker (seriously, this thing is awesome; there is no way around it) and try to download an mp3 file fixer and then that didn’t work so I tried redownloading the files, which of course didn’t work (insanity = same action, expecting a different result) and then, an hour or two later, I finally realized that it was so late, even if I did get the files right now, I’d be too tired to listen to them anyways. I just wanted them now because… well I couldn’t even tell you why. It was so silly of me.
So I emailed the seller and just went to sleep. I got a reply in the morning saying that they’d send the files over via DropBox. I got the files within 24 hours and everything is good. Except for the fact that I lost sleep over something that I didn’t need to lose sleep over. If I had just emailed the seller and gone to bed, I still would’ve gotten the files and saved myself the hassle. Some things will require losing sleep, on occasion. But those occasions should be rare and in some way connected to work or school, like if you’re a CPA and it’s March. And ideally, these occasions wouldn’t be because you’re a CPA and it’s March and you wasted 4 hours today playing Xbox.
It’s hard to leave things “unfinished,” especially for those of us with perfectionist tendencies. But when you stop and think about it, most things don’t need to be finished right this instant. The YouTube video or webpage or social media post you’re looking at will be there tomorrow. Bookmark it and come back later. The dishes in the sink will still be there tomorrow, and as long as they’re not days old, they won’t grow a whole new ecosystem of mold in 10 hours. The laundry will still be there in the morning. Maybe it’ll be a bit wrinkled but if you get enough sleep, you’ll have the energy to get up a bit earlier and iron the items you need. If you leave the house a bit unorganized, it’s ok no one is judging you more than you.
I think we’ve been conditioned by society to always want to keep going, going, going. Getting little to no sleep is seen as a badge of honor and it’s what all of the apparently successful people do. But no one has an infinite amount of energy. We can’t keep moving forward if we’re running on empty. Sure, you can run on empty for a little while, but soon enough, you’re going to have to stop and refuel.
One Resolution to Rule Them All
This is why I only picked one resolution. Getting my sleep right necessitates that I stop using technology mindlessly, that I learn to put “first things first” (a phrase taken from 10 Habits) and that it’s ok to leave the rest temporarily unfinished. There are other good habits that I know I’ll need to do too like not napping during the day. And if I’m not napping during the day, it helps if I don’t eat heavy foods at lunchtime, which will lead to me changing my diet.
The best New Year’s resolution to pick is something that will have a ripple effect. For me, it’s improving my bedtime habits, something that’s evaded me for the better part of the past decade. For you, it could be something else. It’s probably best to pick something fundamental like sleep, diet, or even meditating or going to therapy— something related to your own personal health, whether that’s your physical, emotional, mental, spiritual or even financial health. No matter, what it is you pick, it’s important to remember that you have to fuel up your own tank with internal habits before you can start thinking about external goals.