You may have seen “revenge bedtime procrastination” trending in the press, on various social media and self-help sites. It’s a phrase popularised by millennials and Gen Z in China but first coined by Dr. Floor Kroese, a behavioural scientist from Utrecht University, in 2014. Psychologists say it’s a real phenomena - but what does it actually mean?
What is revenge bedtime procrastination?
Revenge bedtime procrastination is very much a plight of modern life where you stubbornly stay up late, prioritising leisure time over sleep because you feel like didn’t get enough time to yourself during the day.
It’s the decision to sacrifice sleep for leisure time that is driven by a daily schedule lacking in free time. Simply put, it’s getting revenge on the daytime hours that were spent on tasks that left us little to no free time.
Abhinav Singh, medical adviser at the Sleep Foundation, describes this as “a voluntary delaying of sleep time, often by an individual with a very busy daily schedule with a lack of leisure or free time”.
Each account of revenge bedtime procrastination starts roughly the same. It’s past midnight, you’ve finally finished your work emails and your homework, the kids are asleep, the chores are done as are all the other responsibilities that come with adult life.
You’re clicking “next episode” on your favourite Netflix show or endlessly scrolling through Facebook and Instagram. Why aren’t you closing your eyes and going to sleep despite feeling exhausted?
Despite knowing all you have to do the next day and work isn’t far off, a part of you feels unsatisfied and you’re not ready to give in.
In the short-term, revenge bedtime procrastination is tempting because it gives us a burst of dopamine, the “happy hormone”. Though tempting in the moment, and often addictive, there is a risk of serious sleep deprivation and significant detrimental effects on our mental, physical, and emotional health.
Three behaviours are indicative of revenge bedtime procrastination according to the Sleep Foundation:
1. A delay in going to sleep that reduces one’s total sleep time.
2. The absence of a valid reason for staying up later than intended, such as an external event or an underlying illness.
3. An awareness that delaying one’s bedtime could lead to negative consequences.
Why do we do it?
We’re effectively trying to take back control of our lives. As more and more things change outside of our realm of control, it’s easy to feel powerless, particularly during a global pandemic. A lot of us are just trying to get a little autonomy over our lives and restore what we think is balance.
Studies form Utrecht University discovered that the less enjoyable things a person could do during the day, the likelier it was that they would try to reclaim that time at night and engage in the more pleasurable activities they had not been able to do during the day.
A significant cause of this is the blurring of working culture and our personal lives. When the two intersect, the likelihood of us trying to reclaim much-deserved “me-time” increases.
According to Laurie Santos, the director of the Comparative Cognition Lab at Yale, research shows that feeling like you have a bit of free time is important for well-being but at the same time, many of the problems that drive revenge sleep procrastination such as feeling depressed and being too burned out to enjoy your day can be helped by simply getting more sleep. She summarises, “I worry that people are creating a vicious cycle by ruining what leisure time they do have by not getting enough sleep.”
Tracy Otsuka put it best in Attitude Magazine: “By evening, I’ve completed the last of my to-dos. No one is messaging me, my kids and husband are winding down, my kitchen is clean, and my dog is curled up in her bed. There are no distractions. Those delicious hours between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. are my reward for a day well done. The last thing I want to do is give them up and go to bed, so I inadvertently engage in a little revenge bedtime procrastination.”
The effect on our health
Countless studies have shown that a lack of sufficient, high quality sleep is crucial for maintaining both physical and mental health.
According to Sara Makin, founder and CEO of online counselling practice Makin Wellness, the only positive attribute of revenge bedtime procrastination is that there’s a false appearance that you have more control over your life. That’s it.
“There is no genuine positive effect to reducing the quality and time of your sleep. Consistent and good quality sleep is the foundation of sound physical and mental health,” continues Makin.
How do we fix it?
We can actually harness the “revenge” and optimise the time we spend on it. The biggest temptation during these small windows of free time is our phone and the TV. These devices emit blue light that can interfere with your sleep as blue light suppresses melatonin, a key hormone for telling our bodies it’s time to sleep.
Carving out breaks while it’s still light outside by setting a time to do so and taking it seriously is an excellent way to limit the resentment we feel towards the daytime hours and can also assist in limiting our desire to take the power back at bedtime.
We can also start forming more positive habits that allow us to get better rest, maintain structure, and also get time for ourselves including:
- Taking a 10 - 15 minute nap before 2pm. Keep them under 20 minutes to avoid feeling groggy.
- Turn off the lights. Avoid the blue light from the TV and your phone for an hour before bed.
- Turn off the bright lights in your home. This will hep you wind down and get in to sleep mode.
- Start journaling before bed. Leigha Saunders, a sleep expert, naturopathic doctor and founder of True Roots Healthcare, recommends that journaling or “mind-dumping” as a great way to combat revenge bedtime procrastination. Try writing your to-do list for the next day or expressing gratitude for the successes and connections you had that day.
- Create a bedtime ritual that is all about you and which calms but doesn’t overstimulate. This can be your skincare regime, reading a chapter of your book, or eating a little dark chocolate in a warm bath.
For tips on developing yours, check out our article on creating the perfect bedtime routine.