After a long day meeting the demands of an adult in today’s round-the-clock society, you finally have some me-time. But what happens when it feels like there’s not enough me-time in the day? For many of us, that means holding off sleep to engage in enjoyable activities like binge-watching on Netflix, reading a book, scrolling on social media, texting a friend, and anything else that helps you gain back some ‘non-work time’ from your day.
If this sounds familiar, you may have a case of revenge bedtime procrastination. The good news is, you’re not alone! And together, we’ll run through simple and effective strategies to take control of your routine, so you never have to sacrifice good sleep for personal time.
What is revenge bedtime procrastination?
Revenge bedtime procrastination—commonly called bedtime procrastination in scientific literature—means pushing off bedtime to engage in leisure activities, compromising sleep duration and quality.
According to a 2020 study, there are several ways we procrastinate getting to sleep on time. There’s ‘bedtime procrastination,’ where you continue to stay up doing other activities instead of winding down for bed, and then there’s ‘while-in-bed’ procrastination, where you may find yourself scrolling endlessly while your head is on the pillow. Whichever of these you may have participated in, know that you’re not alone.
Here are some signs that you’re a bedtime is sleep procrastinator:
- When you stay up late, it may affect your circadian rhythm (A.K.A., your internal clock).
- You have no “valid reason” (like a medical condition, for instance) for going to bed late.
- You voluntarily stay up late, knowing it may reduce your total sleep time, thereby affecting your daytime functioning and overall well-being the next day.
Is revenge bedtime procrastination a new phenomenon?
A paper published in 2014 introduced the idea of revenge bedtime procrastination as one of many factors disrupting sleep health and daytime alertness. The ‘revenge’ angle comes from the Chinese expression ‘bàofùxìng áoyè,’ which roughly translates to ‘retaliatory staying up late.’ It describes how people have to create personal time at night to ease themselves of China’s 996 work culture (working from 9 AM to 9 PM six days per week).
The expression blew up in June 2020 from a viral tweet by Journalist Daphne K. Lee, where she explained the phenomenon as how “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.”
What’s more, the COVID-19 pandemic gave the phenomenon more reasons to be relatable, considering it blurred the lines between work and private life. Many have to squeeze in some relaxing activities during the few hours of “off-time” in our always-on society.
What makes leisure activities so compelling that we put off sleep even when waking time is just around the corner?
The 2014 paper explains that sleep procrastination is usually a matter of poor self-control. One interesting takeaway is that self-regulation levels are generally at their lowest when we’re mentally exhausted—and, you guessed it, at nighttime, when the easier decision (thanks to the portability of electronic devices and our attachment to screen time entertainment) is to seek immediate gratification at the cost of a long and restful sleep.
However, a 2018 study challenges the emphasis on self-control failure as the primary cause of bedtime procrastination. It highlights how chronotype – a reflection of a person’s internal body clock that primarily controls sleep-wake time – may explain why some, usually evening types, would prefer staying up late for no external reasons than others.
Regardless of the leading cause of sleep procrastination, one thing is clear: it may lead to poor sleep health and lethargy during the day.
How does it impact sleep and daytime energy?
Regular healthy sleep is likely essential for optimal health, active living, and longevity. According to an article published in the journal Nature and Science of Sleep, features of healthy sleep include “sufficient duration, good quality, appropriate timing and regularity, and the absence of sleep disturbances and disorders.”
Consistently engaging in revenge bedtime procrastination may disrupt many of these features, inevitably suppressing your body’s ability to recharge, refresh, and relax, leading to other physical and mental health problems associated with poor sleep habits.
Without getting enough sleep at night, your mind and body will struggle to work at their best during the day. It’s no wonder a poor night’s sleep makes you sluggish, cranky, absent-minded, and exhausted the next day.
Studies also show that some of the health consequences of insufficient sleep include feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression, excessive daytime sleepiness, memory, cognition, and performance impairment, and long-term problems like hypertension, heart-related diseases, obesity, diabetes, etc. Insufficient sleep may also weaken immunity, raising the chances of getting sick.
Tips to curb revenge bedtime procrastination
Revenge bedtime procrastination may feel good, but its short-term and long-term health effects outweigh its perceived benefits. Plus, poor sleep habits may put you into a cycle of daytime sleepiness and nighttime wakefulness, throwing off your internal body clock and impacting your overall health.
If you participate in revenge bedtime procrastination, here are some strategies that may help you take back control of your routine and improve your sleep health.
Follow proper sleep hygiene
Maintaining good sleep habits is the first and most crucial step to putting you on the path to optimal sleep health. As much as habits may be challenging to master, they can become effortless once you do them consistently. Once these behaviors become habits, you’ll start seeing the results of your efforts which may encourage you to keep at them for the long haul.
Here are some best practices to put you on the right track to observing healthy sleep hygiene:
- Follow a consistent sleep and wake-time: Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time, even on weekends. Doing this helps support your internal body clock, which supports day-time alertness and helps your body wind down during the evening. If you need an alarm to remind you to go to bed and wake up at set times, you may try to get one.
- Design your bedroom to be sleep-friendly: When self-control is at its weakest, you can rely on a sleep-inducing environment to send you to dreamland. Try to keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet at night time to help your body prep itself for efficient sleep. Then, you don’t have to do too much to resist the temptation to participate in revenge bedtime procrastination.
- Stay away from your electronic devices before bedtime: Experts recommend that you limit using any screens at least two hours before bedtime. The blue light exposure from electronic devices may keep you up at night and mess with your internal body clock. Need another reason to limit device use before bed? An article in the Journal Computers in Human Behaviour found that not using your phone during bedtime may enhance your sleep quality, happiness levels, and quality of life.
Prioritize day-time me-time
Prioritizing day-time self-care practices—exercising in the early hours of the day, talking to friends and loved ones, listening to music, meditating, going for a refreshing walk—may help fill up your body’s need to take revenge on the day’s hectic demands at night. These activities may also help ease you of the day’s stress, making it easier for your body to wind down for complete rest.
If your schedule makes it difficult to fit in these self-care activities, it may be time to rework it to align with your health needs—as they should always come before anything else.
Stay patient and consistent
As you try to implement some of these habits, you may still find yourself at 1 AM scrolling on social media. Try not to beat yourself up for this. Instead, remember that healthy habits don’t just happen in one day or even a month. And it takes a lot of effort and consistency to prime your body to your new routine.
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