A couple of hours later, people would begin rousing from this initial slumber. The night-time wakefulness usually lasted from around 23:00 to about 01:00, depending on what time they went to bed. It was not generally caused by noise or other disturbances in the night – and neither was it initiated by any kind of alarm (these were only invented in 1787, by an American man who – somewhat ironically – needed to wake up on time to sell clocks). Instead, the waking happened entirely naturally, just as it does in the morning. The period of wakefulness that followed was known as “the watch” – and it was a surprisingly useful window in which to get things done. “[The records] describe how people did just about anything and everything after they awakened from their first sleep,” says Ekirch.
AS A SELF-PROCLAIMED night owl, I’m rarely surprised when I lift my eyes from Instagram and see that it’s well past when I intended to go to sleep. Here’s how I explain it to myself: I’ve always stayed up late, and now the only time I get to myself is when my husband and daughter are asleep. Here’s what’s actually going on: I’m procrastinating.
Some researchers call this bedtime procrastination or while-in-bed procrastination, while the Chinese word for it translates to “revenge bedtime procrastination.” No matter what you call it, in my case, it involves a combination of technology and anxiety; I worry that I won’t be able to fall asleep quickly, so I tell myself that I’ll just scroll through social media until I’m exhausted. It is this—along with a lack of what researchers refer to as self-regulation—that makes me a textbook sleep procrastinator.