How To Decide When It's Worth Staying Up Late

I’ve stayed up late for a lot of stupid things. Sometimes it’s a miscalculation, like trying to finish an assignment that I’m too tired to focus on. But usually it just kind of happens: I’m already watching Netflix, so I keep watching Netflix. I wanted to read a book this evening, and I didn’t get the chance until now.

It’s surprisingly hard to spot these bad decisions as they happen. Late at night I feel sharp. I am a night owl, after all! It’s not until the next morning that I feel the groggy regret. So now, I’ve started asking myself a simple question, inspired by Amy Bender, a professor at the University of Calgary who studies sleep and performance: Would I wake up early to do that? 

If something is really important, or if it won’t take long — yeah, maybe I’d wake up early for it. I used to stay up late to finish papers for school; I knew a morning person who would go to bed at a reasonable time and set his alarm for an ungodly hour in the morning to finish them instead. That’s fair. (He probably did better work in the morning than I did late at night.)

But mostly the question just shines a bright morning light on the fact that you’re making a bad decision. No, I would not set my alarm earlier just to spend an hour watching a mediocre movie and knitting. When the answer to the question is clearly no, it’s time to hit the sack.


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