Revenge Bedtime Procrastination: Why I Do It and How Can I Stop?

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Do you often find yourself refreshing your Instagram feed over and over again at 2 am, even though your body is screaming for sleep and you’ve got to be up in 5 hours? Is every week a string of late nights followed by early mornings, despite your best intentions?

Well, it sounds like you could be stuck in the vicious cycle known as Revenge Bedtime Procrastination!

Revenge Bedtime Procrastination (also known as sleep procrastination) refers to the attempt to steal back leisure time at the expense of a good night’s sleep. Although it may be enjoyable in the moment, it’s actually a self-destructive behaviour that can take a serious toll on your mental, physical and emotional health. 

In this article, we’ll explore: 

  • What is revenge bedtime procrastination?
  • What are the causes of revenge bedtime procrastination?
  • Who does revenge bedtime procrastination affect most?
  • What are the consequences of revenge bedtime procrastination?
  • How to prevent revenge bedtime procrastination
  • How to make good bedtime habits

Ready to fix those toxic bedtime habits once and for all?

Then let’s get to it!

Revenge Bedtime Procrastination Why I Do It And How Can I Stop

What is revenge bedtime procrastination?

Staying up late every now and again isn’t necessarily a sign of revenge bedtime procrastination.

Revenge bedtime procrastination is characterised by 3 key things:

1. The delay in sleep must contribute to a lack of sleep overall. In other words, being a ‘night owl’ as opposed to an ‘early bird’ doesn’t mean you’re a revenge bedtime procrastinator!

2. The delay in sleep is not due to external factors (such as noisy neighbours) or illness.

3. Awareness that the behaviour will lead to negative consequences, but doing so anyway.

The term derives from the Chinese expression ‘bàofùxìng áoyè ‘, which translates literally as ‘retaliatory staying up late’.

But where does revenge come into it exactly?

According to journalist Daphne K. Lee, revenge bedtime procrastination occurs whenpeople who don’t have much control over their daytime life refuse to sleep early to regain some sense of freedom during late night hours.

Revenge Bedtime Procrastination Why I Do It And How Can I Stop 2

In other words, you’re getting ‘revenge’ on your busy schedule and lack of free time by stealing back some leisure time at the expense of a good night’s sleep.

This can often start out small. You might intend to quickly catch up with missed messages for 10 minutes before calling it a night, but find yourself mindlessly scrolling for hours on end before finally giving in to sleep.

Revenge bedtime procrastination activities tend to require very little effort to focus on, such as binge-watching TV series, watching YouTube videos, scrolling on social media and online shopping. 

Think you might be addicted to your phone? Check out this article:

How To Break Phone Addiction | 7 Effective Steps

What are the causes of revenge bedtime procrastination?

The main cause of revenge bedtime procrastination is a general lack of free time throughout the day. 

However, it’s important to note that there might be other factors at play, making some more likely to engage in this voluntary behaviour than others.

So, what’s the psychology behind all of this?

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Well, revenge bedtime procrastination is a great example of the ‘intention-behaviour gap’, a term used to highlight the discrepancies between good intentions and actual behaviours. A common example of this phenomenon is planning to eat well and exercise regularly (particularly after the New Year) but failing to do so.

Some researchers argue that this intention-behaviour gap is a result of a lack of self-discipline

After all, our self-control is arguably at its lowest in the evening after a long, stressful day. Moreover, perhaps some people are simply more disposed to procrastination than others and favour immediate gratification over long term benefits.

However, others argue that sleep procrastination might simply be the result of those naturally prone to being ‘night owls’ being forced to live in an ‘early birds’ world. The typical 9-5 working day certainly favours those who prefer to wake up early.

The bottom line is that no one is entirely sure why we choose to stay up late instead of catching those desperately needed ZZ’s! Revenge bedtime procrastination is a relatively new phenomenon that requires further scientific research into its causes.

Who does revenge bedtime procrastination affect the most?

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It’s no coincidence that the phrase was first popularised in China, where young people are increasingly expected to work 12-hour days. In fact, this gruelling work schedule is so common that companies refer to it as ‘996’: a 9 am to 9 pm workday, 6 days a week.

When you factor in a commute to and from work on top of this, young professionals are left with very little time to cook, shower and complete household chores – let alone unwind and enjoy some ‘me’ time. As a result, delaying sleep can seem like the only way to regain some control over their own time.

This phenomenon is by no means unique to China. The 2019 Phillips Global Sleep Survey, conducted across 12 countries, discovered that 62% of adults worldwide experience a lack of sleep, 37% of which blamed their busy work or school schedule.

In fact, all across the world, modern working patterns are causing the boundaries between work and home to become more and more blurred. Not only is the WFH (work from home) lifestyle increasingly popular, but emailing and instant messaging mean that employees feel pressured to keep in touch with their employers even outside of official working hours. 

This has become even more prevalent in the COVID-19 pandemic, where many people had to switch from working in an office to working from their bedroom. Consequently, common cues to ‘switch off’ the work brain (such as physically leaving a workplace and commuting home) were no longer available.

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One scientific study suggested that during 2020, 40% of adults reported increased sleep problems. It’s important to note that this statistic could be the result of pandemic-related stress as well as remote working habits.

What are the consequences of revenge bedtime procrastination?

Accidentally getting a late night every once in a while isn’t the end of the world. You might feel sleepy the following day, but you won’t suffer any major impacts on your health. 

However, if revenge bedtime procrastination ends up becoming a regular habit, it can end up resulting in sleep deprivation

This not only affects your ability to function the next day, but it can also amount to serious mental, physical and emotional consequences over time.

Side effects of sleep deprivation can potentially include: 

  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • High blood pressure
  • Weight gain
  • Poor memory
  • Poor decision making
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Over a long period of time, sleep deprivation also increases your risk of experiencing:

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Weakened immunity
  • Hormone problems

Yikes! And not only that… 

Sleep deprivation can also affect your personal life. This includes maintaining friendships and relations, performing well at your job, being organised and punctual, eating well, and even being able to drive safely. 

4 ways to prevent revenge bedtime procrastination

Understanding the symptoms, causes and consequences of this damaging behaviour can help us recognise when we’re engaging in it and put in place measures to stop it in its tracks.

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So, what can you do to avoid falling into the Catch-22 revenge bedtime procrastination cycle?

We’ve identified 4 tips to help you assert boundaries throughout your day that will reduce your desire to seek ‘revenge’ later.

1. Prioritise your goals

Break down your day into key (and achievable) goals and create short To-Do lists, ranked in order of importance. This will not only help manage your stress but also give you a sense of achievement at the end of the day.

2. Assess your schedule

Take a look at your daily demands and consider cutting out things that leave you stressed, unhappy and overworked.

3. Schedule ‘You Time’

Consciously put aside a block of time each day where you spend time doing something you enjoy – even if it’s just taking half an hour to walk around a park on your lunch break. Remember, you can always ask your friends and family to pitch in if this seems too difficult.

4. Separate your personal and professional life

If you work at home, try to establish a designated work zone (not in the bedroom, if possible) and stick to that! Creating a cut-off time for checking and replying to emails is also key. 

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How to Form good bedtime habits

Once you’ve taken steps towards establishing a better work-life balance, you can start establishing better bedtime habits in general. Woohoo!

Here’s a list of top tips for a good night’s sleep:

  • Develop a familiar bedtime routine that helps you unwind and prepare for sleeping.
  • Create a dark, quiet, comfortable sleeping environment.
  • Turn off your phone, tablet, TV or laptop for at least half-an-hour before bed.
  • Try to exercise every day. A low-intensity yoga flow before bed can work wonders!
  • Limit daytime naps.
  • Consistently wake up and go to sleep at the same time each day, even on weekends.
  • Avoid alcohol or caffeine in the late afternoon and evening.
  • Avoid foods high in fat before sleeping.
  • Avoid sleeping on a stomach that is too empty or too full.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, by reading this article, you’ve got a better idea of whether you’re a revenge bedtime procrastinator, why you do it and, most importantly, how to stop it. 

However, it’s important to remember that revenge bedtime procrastination is complex and can be a very tough habit to break. Keep in mind that it will take more than one night to create a good sleeping pattern, and don’t be discouraged if you find it difficult at first.

And lastly, if you’re reading this article in bed… Consider this your sign to put down your phone and get some sleep!

How about some Yoga Nidra For Sleep to send you drifting off?

Sweet dreams.

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Lola is an Ayurveda practitioner based in London with a passion for yoga, nature and people.

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