The term is used to describe people who stay up late even when they are tired because they want more personal free time.
The term “revenge bedtime procrastination” sounds very aggressive and like something you’d know you’d be doing off the bat. But it often innocuously occurs when the house is quiet, kids are asleep and emails have stopped flowing in. It’s 1 a.m. and you know you have to get up in just a few hours to start another hectic day — but you hit play on the next episode of your new favorite Netflix show anyway. If this sounds like you, then revenge bedtime procrastination is indeed something you likely partake in right now.
Nearly 90% of adults admit to losing sleep while on a television spree, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). The chemistry behind what experts call revenge bedtime procrastination goes a step further. It refers to intentionally staying up too late to scroll through social media, watch TV or participate in any other activity that you didn’t have time for during the day.
“It’s describing when people don’t have as much control over their daytime life and schedules, and they delay sleep and their normal bedtimes to have more freedom and free time,” explains Michelle Drerup, Psy.D., director of the behavioral sleep medicine program at the Cleveland Clinic Sleep Disorders Center. “And, they do that fully aware that it’s going to have negative consequences.”
Is revenge bedtime procrastination actually real?
It’s not a diagnosable condition per se, but Drerup says she’s worked with many patients who grapple with revenge bedtime procrastination and it’s occurring more. The term “bedtime procrastination” comes from an article published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology in 2014, with researchers defining it as “failing to go to bed at the intended time, while no external circumstances prevent a person from doing so.”
The word “revenge” cropped up as a nod to the 12-hour-a-day, six-day-a-week work schedule that some workers in China face and their efforts to take control over their free time by intentionally staying up late. But it wasn’t until 2020 that it went viral, when journalist Daphne K. Lee tweeted about it, calling it “a phenomenon in which people who don’t have much control over their daytime life refuse to sleep early in order to regain some sense of freedom during late-night hours.” The post has racked up more than 263,000 likes to date.
Revenge bedtime procrastination is more than just staying up late, or that someone tries to sleep but can’t. It’s when someone is fully aware that their actions will delay sleep and they’ll experience negative effects, but they do it anyway. It also reduces the overall amount of sleep someone gets each night.
What causes sleep procrastination?
Feeling like you don’t have enough free or leisure time or that you generally lack control are both overall causes linked back to revenge bedtime procrastination. “In today’s world where our time is so controlled by work, family and school schedules, sometimes people look at [delaying sleep] as their own time to do what they want and gain control of their own life and time and what activities they want to do,” says Kuljeet Gill, M.D., sleep medicine specialist at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital.
The phenomenon has become more common over the past two years, as the COVID-19 pandemic has interfered with our sleep habits, increased the feelings of being out of control and blurred our work and home lives, Drerup says. Choosing to stay up late is something you can control, and it’s a way to distract yourself from all that’s going on.
Technology also plays a crucial role, Gill says. People can delay sleep for any activity, such as reading or crafting — but more often it’s technology-focused. “Years ago, TV stopped at midnight,” she says. “Now, it’s available any time of the day, and people can binge-watch not just an episode, but the entire seasons of shows.”
The streaming of videos or mindlessly scrolling through social media usually happens at night during your second wind, a surge of alertness a few hours before falling asleep. “What happens is people initiate the show-watching within that second wind, but then that second wind signal is falling and now it’s time to be sleeping and they’re fighting it,” says Rafael Pelayo, M.D., sleep specialist and clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine. Sleep is also sometimes viewed as an inconvenience or another task you’re obligated to do, so delaying bedtime is a way to rail against it.
Who is likely impacted by revenge bedtime procrastination?
Anyone can be affected by revenge bedtime procrastination. People who are more apt to procrastinate and struggle with self-regulation are more likely to experience the phenomenon, research shows. It’s also common for people with other sleep conditions, like insomnia, and who are natural night owls and feel more alert later and stay up later, Drerup explains.
She sees the phenomenon more often in women, though. “Still to this day, typically, most of the household and childcare responsibilities are left to females in a lot of cases,” Drerup says. Parents of any gender commonly experience it, too. After putting the kids to bed, they want quiet time to themselves, Gill adds, “So, they’re engaging in behaviors that would awaken them or prolong that time.”
People with stressful jobs and who work long hours might also be prone to revenge bedtime procrastination. “For some people, they don’t look forward to getting up,” Pelayo says. “Maybe they don’t like their job, or they don’t like to go to school.”
How does revenge bedtime procrastination impact health over time?
We live in a sleep-deprived society, with many adults not getting the recommended seven to nine hours of shut-eye a night, Drerup says. Staying up too late every once in a while is nothing to worry about, but if revenge bedtime procrastination becomes a habit, it could be harmful to your health. Not getting enough sleep long term can lead to a number of physical and mental health conditions, such as:
- High blood pressure
- Cardiovascular disease
- Weakened immune system
Fatigue also increases the likelihood of accidents, like car crashes or mistakes at work, Gill adds. Being consistently tired can also make you feel grumpy and irritable, all while affecting your relationships.
How do I stop revenge bedtime procrastination?
Since sabotaging your bedtime routine is an active choice you’re making on most evenings, you’ll know immediately if it’s time to rethink your habits. Here are seven ways you can try to overcome revenge bedtime procrastination:
- Reframe how you think about sleep. “Start off by thinking about looking forward to sleeping,” Pelayo says. Don’t think of sleep as a chore, but something you get to do that’s great for your health. Remind yourself how you feel when you get more sleep and that you feel better when you’re rested, Drerup adds.
- Carve out time each day for leisure. Take a look at your schedule, cut out some things if you can, and see where you can make time for the activities you enjoy during the day or early evening. “Like after I eat my lunch, I’m going to give myself 15 minutes to play Candy Crush or whatever it is that you’re doing at that time,” Drerup says. “So, schedule that downtime for yourself.”
- Create a bedtime ritual. Every night, start winding down 30 minutes to an hour before actually going to sleep. Brush your teeth, do your skincare routine, and read, meditate, or do some deep breathing exercises. “It’s a way of relaxing the body and mind and opening the airway,” Gill says. “It’s a strong signal to make us sleep at night.”
- Get on a sleep schedule. Setting a consistent bedtime and wake-up timewill help you prioritize sleep. Gill recommends starting slowly to get on a schedule. “I would say not to be too extreme with it to start, maybe advancing your bedtime by 15 minutes a day,” she says. Stick to the schedule on most weekdays and weekends.
- Know your sleep cues. When you start feeling sleepy or drowsy at night, your body is telling you that it’s time for bed. Drerup says not to ignore these signs or fight through them by looking at your phone or watching TV. Go to bed!
- Put your devices to bed. It’s tough, but putting away your phone or shutting off the TV should be part of your bedtime routine. When you do, you won’t be tempted to check Instagram one last time and then end up scrolling for an hour. “Put them to bed,” Drerup says. “I tell my patients, ‘They worked just as hard as you did during the day, so they need to have a rest, too.’”
- Turn off autoplay. When episodes keep playing on Netflix or Hulu, it’s easy to say you’ll just watch one more and end up staying up way too late. Gill says turning off autoplay on your streaming services removes the temptation. “This technology is designed for us to keep using it, so I think resisting some of that will help for sure,” she adds.
When to seek help for revenge bedtime procrastination:
If you’re waking up feeling groggy and exhausted more days than not and it’s interfering with your daytime routine, it might be time to talk to someone about the problem. Reach out to your doctor, a mental health professional, or a local sleep clinic if you think you have revenge bedtime procrastination. Drerup advises it’s important to rule out another underlying mental health condition, such as trauma or anxiety, that could be keeping you up at night.
“If you’re having a consistent issue not doing well in the daytime, you’re tired, you’re getting frustrated, it’s hard to get up in the morning, you’re groggy, you’re feeling less productive, or just enjoying lifeless when you’re awake — then clearly, we can work on improving your sleep,” Pelayo says.
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