‘Revenge Bedtime Procrastination’: The Reason Why You’re Always Staying up Late

It can often feel like there aren't enough hours in the day to fit in everything we would like. With our increasingly busy schedules, it can be tricky to prioritise and find the hours for personal time outside of work and social obligations. 

It's not uncommon to wrap up a long day, realise we need to be awake in 8 hours, but still have a strong desire to watch Netflix for an extra couple of hours. And that's exactly what we end up doing, even if we know we should sleep. 

Sound familiar? You might be someone dealing with a phenomenon called 'Revenge Bedtime Procrastination', otherwise known as 'Sleep Procrastination'. 

The term 'bedtime procrastination' was popularised a 2014 study from the Netherlands aimed to answer the question of why people delayed their bedtime on purpose, even when they are tired. It's thought that the "revenge" prefix was added because of the brutal 996 working hour system practiced by some companies in China, whereby employees work from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm, six days per week.

In an interview with The Washington Post, behavioural scientist Wendy Troxel explained that an increase in revenge bedtime procrastination has been  “exacerbated during covid, when people are sort of vengeful about ‘me time,’ and that ‘me time’ only occurs when they know they should be going to bed.” 

What is 'Revenge Bedtime Procrastination'? 

The Sleep Foundation describes 'revenge bedtime procrastination' as "The decision to sacrifice sleep for leisure time that is driven by a daily schedule lacking in free time." It's the phenomenon in which you choose to partake in leisure activities, even at the expense of sleep and knowing that it's not the healthy choice.

It's the concept of taking 'revenge' on the daytime hours that meant we couldn't have leisure time, and choosing to take this personal time at night. But it's not so much a matter of not wanting to sleep, but rather wanting to fit in other activities as well. 

“Revenge sleep procrastination occurs when you're stressed, typically because of work hours and you don't have enough time,” sleep specialist Mohamed Sameen, MD, told Everyday Health.

What is the psychology behind it?

It makes sense that even if we have a busy life, we still want time to enjoy ourselves. The 2014 study from The Netherlands published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior, found that the more people continue to think about work-related issues and be involved in work activities during their off-job hours, the less likely they will be able to restore their energies. This suggests that in order to mentally unwind from a busy day we need to fit in some leisure time. Unfortunately, this often results in us sacrificing our precious sleep time. 

In an interview with Mind Body Green, psychologist and sleep expert Shelby Harris revealed that the most common people to adopt this mentality are those who don't feel as though they get enough personal time, those who don't get enough time to decompress, and people who are highly stressed.

"Parents frequently do this, as they're working and taking care of their kids and, once the kids go to bed, they finally decide to do things like binge-watch TV, read, or do anything they never really feel like they have the time to do," she explains.  

Is it a problem and what can you do about it?

Leisure time is an important component of psychological health and wellbeing, but sleep deprivation can override this and negatively affect our physical and mental health as well. A lack of sleep can result in an even stronger desire to have downtime because we aren't in a good a frame of mind during the day and need to work more because we aren't being as productive. It's a tricky cycle and one that's very easy to fall into.

So where does that leave us?

The ultimate goal would be to try integrate activities you enjoy into your daily routine, rather than just tacking them on when you’re about to go to bed. 

What could be more realistic for you is:

  • Limiting screen-time to just one episode of the show you're currently streaming and turning off 'auto play'.
  • Better planning your day to take advantage of the hours you do have. 
  • Avoiding alcohol or caffeine late in the afternoon or evening.
  • Better utilising the time you have on weekends and not sleeping in.
  • Meditating or practising yoga as a way to unwind and encourage you to sleep.
  • Establishing a clear bedtime routine that will encourage you to sleep.
  • Speaking to a healthcare professional about how to better manage your stress levels.

 Enjoyed this? Here are 5 Meditation Apps to Help Calm Your Mind

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