bedtime procrastination
Illustration: Kate Bingaman-Burt
There are many factors that keep people up all night (small children, big deadlines, aches and pains, noisy neighbors), but none of those apply to you—you just like being up late. Here's why you need to rethink your bedtime procrastination.

You're Getting Tons of Work Done—Tons of Good, Smart Work

Why You're Hooked: Your boss is consistently impressed with the solid efforts that come out of your wee-hour workathons. Boo-yeah, early-to-bedders! There's an explanation for this superhuman-seeming ability to do more work on less sleep: Sleep deprivation doesn't affect all cognitive abilities in the same way. While studies have shown that it messes with memory, creativity, innovation and complex planning, it doesn't seem to have as harmful an effect on logic and reasoning. Which means we can tackle the reviewing, reasoning and analyzing tasks on most of our work to-do lists without mistakes, and the work is interesting enough to keep us alert...for a while. (Sleep deprivation makes boring tasks even more boring, explains William Killgore, PhD, a psychiatry professor at the University of Arizona and a leading researcher on the topic. This is why the exhausted people in lab experiments who are asked to do nothing more than press a button are snoring through their assignments in no time, and why many of us drift off during conference calls.)

Why You Need to Kick It: The parts of your brain responsible for psychomotor skills, coordination and memory are still suffering from a lack of rest. As you've heard, driving while sleep-deprived can be as dangerous as driving while intoxicated. So even if you stay up all night to finish that report, it won't be much use to you if you crash your car on the way to the office, spill coffee on your laptop or forget your client's name.

Also Note: We're surprisingly bad at judging how sleepy we are, Killgore says. Don't wait for an out-of-control car to clue you in—first try this "lapsing" test (all you need is a chair and a pencil).

You Feel Like 175 Percent After a Night of Zero Sleep

Why You're Hooked: You're talking a mile a minute and sounding confident! Enthusiastic! You're seeing and hearing the world through a new filter, and it's like a Lisa Frank sticker a rainbow-awesome-colored way.

Why You Need to Kick It: Yes, sleep deprivation makes the world a brighter, more colorful place, or, put more technically by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley: a place where the emotional-processing parts of the brain, like the amygdala, respond to stimuli in a more intense way. This may feel great when the stimuli stokes positive emotions, but Killgore points out that as soon as you hit traffic or a coworker says something critical, your mood is going to careen downhill.
There are many factors that keep people up all night (small children, big deadlines, aches and pains, noisy neighbors), but none of those apply to you—you just like being up late. Here's why you need to rethink your bedtime procrastination.

Actually, Even Hopeless Mornings Seem More Bearable When You Haven't Closed Your Eyes

Why You're Hooked: A different kind of mood-boosting effect has been found to help clinically depressed people who stay up until dawn. The precise mechanisms are still being examined, but researchers at Tufts University have found that the reason involves a sleep-inducing chemical called adenosine, the buildup of which has been shown to alter brain chemistry and trigger an antidepressant effect.

Why You Need to Kick It: This effect is real but short-lived: It wears off as soon as you next fall asleep, says Killgore.

Also Note: Because only vampires can stay awake indefinitely, researchers are trying to develop a pharmaceutical treatment that replicates the adenosine mechanism.

You Have the Energy for the Elliptical—at 9:45 p.m.

Why You're Hooked: Just when you should be getting ready for bed, you get a second wind. You're surprised, because you were dragging at 5pm, and promised yourself you'd get to bed early tonight. What's happening is that your body knows that bedtime is approaching, so it's trying to keep you awake until then, explains Mary A. Carskadon, professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University. It's easy to misinterpret this signal and think you've adjusted to getting by on a minimal amount of sleep and don't really need to tuck in early, after all. Nighttime also happens to be when the gym is the emptiest, the supermarket is the quietest.

Why You Need to Kick It: You're running yourself down, weakening your immune system and possibly trimming years off your life (not hitting your sweet spot of sleep has been associated with a decreased lifespan as well as an increased risk of dementia). Carskadon says that it's natural to feel relatively awake when you get into bed, even if you didn't get enough sleep the night before. That's where the wind-down routine comes in, she says (now do you appreciate the importance of all those get-to-sleep tricks we're always telling you about?).


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