It’s past midnight and you’re still on your phone. You know you should be tired by now and that you have to be well-rested for work in the morning, but you feel wide awake. You check the time and think: I should be asleep by now. Why don’t I want to go to sleep?
Below, we’ll get into some of the reasons why you might be reading this late at night and still not feel drowsy. Do you lack motivation to go to bed? Or are you suffering from sleep issues such as falling asleep and staying asleep through the night? Once you determine your sleep problem(s), the RISE app can guide you with science-backed tools to achieve the hours of sleep you need to feel your best every day.
Not wanting to sleep suggests you are unmotivated to go to bed even when you know staying up will cut into valuable rest and energy the next day. It’s slightly different from not being able to sleep, which is when your body resists your efforts to fall or fall back asleep.
The two problems — not wanting to sleep and not being able to sleep — can be tricky to parse. Maybe you haven’t been able to fall asleep after trying these past few nights. Understandably, watching another hour of TV starts to appeal more than lying awake frustrated in bed. In this case, it might be more apt to say your lack of desire to sleep stems from underlying sleep problems. These sleep problems could include sleep disorders such as insomnia, but could also be poor sleep hygiene or misalignment with your circadian rhythm, your body’s internal clock.
First, we’ll get into what might be demotivating you from sleep. Then, we’ll address other possible obstacles that could be at play.
It’s important to keep in mind that even if you don’t feel sleepy, you’re still bound by the fundamentals of a good night’s sleep and well-rested days.
The amount of sleep you need is specific to your genetics, just like height and eye color. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not eight hours for everyone. One study suggests the average sleep need is eight hours and 40 minutes (plus or minus 10 minutes or so), but 13.5% of the population may need 9 hours or more sleep a night.
You can find out your exact sleep “need” by turning to the RISE app. RISE uses a year’s worth of your phone use behavior and proprietary sleep-science based models to work out your sleep need and give you a number down to the minute.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to view their sleep need.
Whether or not you want to sleep, getting less of it builds up your sleep debt. Sleep debt is the amount of sleep you miss compared to your sleep need. In the RISE app we calculate this over the past 14 days.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to view their sleep debt.
Accruing sleep debt (5 hours or more) zaps you of energy and has serious consequences for your health and wellbeing.
That’s all to say, when your sleep debt is low, a later bedtime one night won’t make or break your health. But if you’re regularly missing hours of sleep, your sleep debt will mount quickly, as will its symptoms. (The good news is, you can pay down debt by catching up on sleep. The best ways to do that include, going to bed a little earlier, sleeping in a little later, taking well-timed naps, and improving your sleep efficiency through good sleep hygiene. We’ll dive into some of these a little later.)
Let’s turn to reasons you might not want to sleep.
Scrolling through social media, playing video games, or watching Netflix late past a responsible bedtime – when you know you should be asleep – is a phenomenon known as “revenge bedtime procrastination.” Revenge bedtime procrastination, also called sleep procrastination, takes place when you put off sleep in favor of passive leisure activities.
If you’re a regular sleep procrastinator, the issue might not be that you don’t want to sleep, but that you want more me-time. Maybe you feel overscheduled at work or at home, and the only time for personal relaxation you get also happens to be the time you need sleep.
Having downtime is important for your mental health. “Psychological detachment” from work, for instance, can also guard against burnout. Many people who experience sleep procrastination also experience significant stress in the day. But losing sleep over time can compound this stress, and mounting stress can precipitate further sleep loss in a vicious cycle.
One way to curb sleep procrastination is to use your circadian rhythm, or daily Energy Schedule as we refer to it in the RISE app, as a guide to structuring your day.
Your circadian rhythm determines the peaks and dips in your energy throughout the day. The RISE app can help you identify when the best time is to perform certain tasks based on your energy levels by:
Having insight into your energy levels throughout the day can give you more agency over your days (and curb daytime procrastination) and help promote relaxation at night. We’ve seen sleep debt tracking, creating a wind-down routine you look forward to, and bedtime accountability motivate RISE users to get the sleep they need to be at their best. As a recent RISE subscriber attests:
Feel much better rested!
Using RISE has really given me motivation to avoid revenge bedtime procrastination. With three young kids it is easy to stay up too late just to enjoy the quiet. But seeing what it was doing to my sleep debt I finally felt it just really wasn’t worth it anymore. I occasionally still stay up too late, but never more than once a week nor when my sleep debt is already above 5 hours. I guess I only do it when I can ‘afford’ it. Also going to bed earlier has been made easy by using my melatonin window, so I know I’m not in bed too early and not too late. All in all it has really made a difference in my energy levels! And I love that 💕
There’s a science behind night-owls and early-birds. Your genetics, age, sex, and environmental and lifestyle factors all influence your chronotype. Your chronotype biases the timing of your circadian rhythm (whether your natural tendency to sleep and wake up is earlier or later, as well as the timing of your daily energy peaks and dips).
While society glorifies the early bird, different chronotypes make it such that people naturally have different sleep-wake schedules. You might think you should be asleep by a certain time because that’s when everyone else seems to be sleeping, but you’re actually programmed to sleep later and wake later.
There’s no intrinsic moral value to different sleep schedules. Still, if your job and lifestyle demand an earlier sleep-wake schedule, and your sleep debt is high because of it, you can gradually shift your sleep-wake times to help you get the sleep you need.
It’s a tempting idea: not wanting to sleep is advantageous, preferable even, when it comes to your busy life. When we have goals we want to accomplish, it can be easy to think that a few hours of sleep are something we can trade for productivity.
But not getting enough sleep will inevitably get in the way of accomplishing more. Sleeping less racks up your sleep debt. It can also throw you out of alignment with your circadian rhythm. When that happens, your next day energy takes a hit, as does your cognitive function and attention. Over time, not getting enough sleep will also increase your risk of physical health problems, such as obesity, heart disease and high blood pressure, which will inevitably impact your well-being and productivity down the road.
Paying down your sleep debt and aligning with your circadian rhythm are the most overlooked ways of unlocking greater productivity.
As mentioned, sleep need varies from individual to individual. Use the RISE app to figure out how much sleep you need and your most productive bedtime. You’ll see that when your sleep debt lowers your overall energy levels are higher. You’ll be able to accomplish more in your energy peaks and feel less tired during your energy dips.
If the above behaviors don’t seem to fit your situation, the problem might not be that you don’t want to sleep, but that you can’t sleep.
There could be many reasons why you can’t sleep even when you want to rest. Persistent trouble sleeping can be a difficult knot to untangle. After a few sleepless nights, you might start to worry about not getting enough sleep or not falling asleep at the right time. This sleep anxiety, or anxiousness about sleep, in turn will likely only exacerbate your sleep problem until the underlying issue is addressed. Unfortunately, even when the initial obstacle to your sleep is removed, sleep anxiety can linger as insomnia or precipitate insomnia, in which case clinical intervention in the form of CBT-I is usually recommended (more on this soon).
Getting better sleep can take time, but it doesn’t have to be daunting. Below, we address some reasons why you might not be able to sleep. From there, we go into steps you can take to hopefully improve your nights and tomorrows.
Anxiety triggers the body’s fight-or-flight stress response. On a chemical level, this means your adrenal glands pump extra adrenaline and cortisol — hormones that trigger the release of blood sugar and fat into your blood — to give you a boost of energy.
The hormonal surge prompted by acute anxiety helped us to survive in evolutionary history and can still help by spurring us to complete modern challenges like work projects, public speaking, or dodging a bus.
What’s not helpful is when anxiety keeps you up at night. Chronic anxiety prolongs your body’s stress response, keeping cortisol levels higher than usual. And depending on how long your body continues without a clear signal to return to normal functioning, sufficient restorative sleep becomes harder to come by.
If anxiety is obstructing your sleep, here are some ways to regain control over your nighttime (head here for a more in-depth guide on how to calm anxiety at night):
That being said, anxiety can be difficult to work through on your own. If, after a few nights of experimentation, you still can’t quiet your mind, consider seeking medical advice from a qualified mental health professional. They will work with you to pinpoint the root causes of your anxiety to help improve your mental well-being.
Your circadian rhythm is a finely-tuned internal clock that determines the timing of your natural sleep schedule, your energy peaks and dips, and almost every other bodily process. Ideally, your external clock (time zone, lifestyle, etc.) works together with your internal clock. But of course life happens, and changes to your schedule can disrupt your sleep schedule.
The transition in and out of Daylight Savings Time (DST) is a widely-experienced example of this. Our internal clocks can take much longer to adjust to the external time change dictated by DST, than we might think. In the spring, when the clocks shift forward an hour, there’s evidence to suggest our sleep-wake schedules — and our daily energy — never really adjust!
Other examples of circadian misalignment include:
The effects of changing schedules can be difficult to mitigate especially if you have work or family obligations, but there are some strategies to both strengthen as well as get back in sync with your circadian rhythm:
Not being able to sleep at night might have its roots in what happens from the moment you wake up. Sleep hygiene refers to the upkeep of sleep-promoting behaviors, many of which occur during the daytime. They might not all seem sleep related, but they nevertheless have clear sleep consequences. Poor daytime habits that also affect your nightly slumber include late caffeine, bright blue light in the hours before bed, and not getting enough natural light first thing in the morning and throughout the day.
Maintaining consistent, good sleep hygiene is one of the most impactful ways to meet your sleep need, stay in circadian alignment, and ensure better days.
Understandably, current habits can be hard to break and it can be hard to know where to start.
Here are some of the most impactful things you can do for better sleep:
You can learn more about how to improve your sleep hygiene here.
To help you get a good night’s sleep night after night, RISE can remind you when to do 20+ sleep health habits. But it’s more than just a simple reminder. The app tells you the best time to do each habit depending on your circadian rhythm. This makes them more effective, so you’re more likely to fall asleep at your desired bedtime and meet your sleep need each night.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications.
Some medications might have side effects that interfere with your sleep by influencing chemicals associated with your sleep-wake cycle. For example, one study suggests that while antidepressants are meant to improve sleep secondarily by improving mood and daytime activity, some classes of antidepressant drugs actually have activating effects that impair sleep in the short-term. Another 2018 study also cites that certain cardiovascular drugs can induce sleeplessness by inhibiting melatonin production.
It may seem counterintuitive, but if you’ve used prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids, this might also contribute to poor sleep. Coming off sleep medications can cause lack of sleep. “Rebound insomnia” happens when you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep after you stop taking certain sleep medicine.
Talk to your healthcare provider if you suspect your medication is keeping you up at night. They may suggest alternative medication or dosage that will interfere less with your sleep.
While a few consecutive nights of sleeplessness can be triggered by any one or combination of the factors already discussed–including stress, circadian misalignment, or a pre-existing health condition–sleep anxiety and cumulative poor sleep hygiene can perpetuate sleep troubles into insomnia.
The International Classification of Sleep Disorders defines insomnia as “difficulty in either initiating sleep, maintaining sleep continuity, or poor sleep quality” despite the “presence of adequate opportunity and circumstance for sleep.”
The sleep disorder is further broken down between:
When you endure a few sleepless nights, you may develop habits–such as taking poorly-timed naps–that help you cope with your fatigue during the day but throw off your bedtime once night comes around again. After more nights spent tossing and turning in bed, you may also start to develop fear or anxiousness about going to sleep or staying asleep through the night. This negative feedback loop of sleep loss can help explain why insomnia can persist even when the initial root causes of your sleepless nights are resolved.
Improving sleep hygiene is usually recommended as the first step to address insomnia over any kind of sleep aid. The gold standard treatment for the sleep disorder is cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I). Your sleep specialist trained in CBT-I may guide you through sleep restriction (a perhaps counterintuitive therapy that initially restricts your time in bed to ultimately improve your sleep efficiency), sleep reset, and/or cognitive techniques to reframe any negative associations with sleep.
Besides insomnia, there are other sleep and circadian disorders, as well as medical conditions, that can affect your ability to sleep. These include:
There are many culprits that could make sleeping difficult even if you’re tired. If you suspect any of the above medical conditions to be the case, schedule an appointment with a licensed healthcare provider to get the treatment you need for better sleep and overall well-being.
The reason(s) you don’t want to sleep might be complicated. It could be because you want more personal time at the end of the day or would rather be doing anything but sleeping! But you might also not want to sleep because you feel you can’t fall asleep or stay asleep through the night.
Determine why you’re losing sleep and work toward the right solution. Depending on whether the root cause is medical or non-medical, you may need to consult a healthcare professional. The RISE app can help you address poor sleep hygiene and guide you to healthy habits for better sleep and better days.
If you don’t want to go to bed at night, ask yourself if it’s because you don’t want to sleep or you feel you can’t. Addressing revenge bedtime procrastination, circadian misalignment, sleep anxiety, and/or poor sleep hygiene can help you get to the bottom of your sleep problems.
If you don’t want to sleep, try implementing a wind-down routine in the hour before bed. A structured wind-down can help you relax and purge negative thoughts you might have associated with sleep. You can try to disassociate your bed from wakefulness by performing a sleep reset: get out of bed to relax elsewhere and only return to bed when you’re sleepy. Addressing poor sleep hygiene can also help.
Your inability to sleep might come from circadian misalignment, poor sleep hygiene, anxiety, or the side effects of certain medications. If you’ve ruled these out, you may have insomnia or an underlying health issue.
Not necessarily. But if you don’t want to sleep because you feel you can’t, and this persists for months, insomnia may be to blame. Good sleep hygiene and CBT-I can help stave off the debilitating sleep deprivation that comes with this sleep disorder.
Revenge bedtime procrastination, also called sleep procrastination, involves knowingly putting off sleep in favor of passive leisure activities. It might happen because the only personal time you have happens to be the time you need to sleep. Carving out time for yourself during the day and holding yourself accountable to a bedtime can help.
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