Home / Sleep Hygiene / What is “Revenge Bedtime Procrastination”?

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Eric Suni

    “Revenge bedtime procrastination” describes the decision to sacrifice sleep for leisure time that is driven by a daily schedule lacking in free time.

    For people in high-stress jobs that take up the bulk of their day, revenge bedtime procrastination is a way to find a few hours of entertainment even though it results in insufficient sleep.

    Although revenge bedtime procrastination can be tempting in the moment, late nights followed by early mornings can directly lead to serious sleep deprivation. Cutting back on sleep can have significant negative effects on mental, physical, and emotional health with short- and long-term consequences.

    Understanding sleep procrastination, including its symptoms, causes, and consequences, can help you recognize when you’re engaging in it. Then, you can take steps to prevent bedtime procrastination from leading to insufficient sleep.

    What Behaviors Are Associated With Bedtime Procrastination?

    Three factors are required for a late sleep time to be considered bedtime procrastination:

    • A delay in going to sleep that reduces one’s total sleep time
    • The absence of a valid reason for staying up later than intended, such as an external event or an underlying illness
    • An awareness that delaying one’s bedtime could lead to negative consequences

    Bedtime procrastination behaviors reflect procrastination in other contexts, such as avoiding doing homework or household chores. Procrastinating on sleep doesn’t usually generate negative associations like those other obligations, however. Instead, sleep may be curtailed in favor of activities that offer more immediate enjoyment, such as watching TV, spending time with friends, or playing video games.

    Sleep procrastination can take different forms. One form involves delaying the act of getting into bed (bedtime procrastination). Another is delaying the time of trying to fall asleep once in bed (while-in-bed procrastination), a problem that has been associated with rising rates of electronic device use in bed.

    A person may engage in one or both forms of sleep procrastination, each of which can reduce nightly sleep.

    What Does Revenge Have to Do With It?

    Revenge bedtime procrastination refers to the decision to delay sleep in response to stress or a lack of free time earlier in the day.

    The addition of the word “revenge” to the concept of bedtime procrastination became popular on social media. The English term “revenge bedtime procrastination” emerged from a translation of an expression in Chinese that reflected frustration tied to long, stressful work hours that left little time for personal enjoyment.

    In this way, bedtime procrastination is seen as a way of getting “revenge” on daytime hours with little or no free time. Though initially expressed by people in China, the idea has resonated across the globe and gained additional traction in response to stress induced by COVID-19.

    What is the Psychology Behind Bedtime Procrastination?

    Sleep procrastination is still an emerging concept in sleep science. As a result, there are ongoing debates about the psychology behind this voluntary sleep reduction.

    People who engage in bedtime procrastination know and generally want to receive enough sleep, but they fail to actually do so. This is known as an intention-behavior gap.

    One explanation for this gap is a failure in self-regulation or self-control. Our capacity for self-control is already at its lowest at the end of the day, which may facilitate sleep procrastination. Some people may be naturally inclined to procrastination in general, including around bedtime. In addition, daytime demands at work or school may reduce the reserves of self-control available in the evening.

    Not everyone agrees with this explanation, with some arguing that it places too much emphasis on self-control. Instead, sleep procrastination may result from people who have an evening chronotype — “night owls” — who are forced to try to adapt to schedules designed for “early birds.” In revenge bedtime procrastination, sacrificing sleep for leisure time may also be seen not as a failure of self-control but rather an attempt to find recovery time in response to stress.

    Further research is needed to better understand sleep procrastination, which may be the result of multiple interacting factors  including chronotype, daytime stress, and difficulties in self-regulation.

    Who is Most Affected by Bedtime Procrastination?

    Because research about sleep procrastination is still in the early stages, experts aren’t ceratin who is most affected by it.

    That said, one study found that students and women were most likely to engage in bedtime procrastination. People with an evening chronotype are inclined to stay up later, which may manifest as bedtime procrastination. Sleep procrastination also appears to be more frequent in people who procrastinate in other aspects of their life.

    Revenge sleep procrastination appears to be tied to significant daytime stress. For many people, sleep procrastination may be a response to extended work hours that, if combined with a full night’s sleep, leave virtually no time for entertainment or relaxation.

    Revenge bedtime procrastination may also be on the rise because of COVID-19 and stress associated with stay-at-home orders. Surveys have found that working from home has often extended working hours, and women, in particular, have had a reduction in normal leisure time since the pandemic started. These factors may trigger stress and sleep procrastination and contribute to the fact that nearly 40% of people have had sleeping problems during the pandemic.

      What Are the Consequences of Bedtime Procrastination?

      Bedtime procrastination can cause sleep deprivation. Without enough hours of sleep, the mind and body can’t properly recharge, which can have widespread negative effects on health.

      Insufficient sleep degrades thinking, memory, and decision-making. Sleep deprivation also raises the risk of daytime sleepiness, which can harm productivity and academic achievement while heightening the risks of drowsy driving.

      A lack of sleep is tied to irritability and other difficulties regulating emotions. It’s also been connected to mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety.

      Sleep deprivation worsens physical health, making people more susceptible to cardiovascular problems and metabolic disorders, like diabetes. In addition, and especially concerning in light of COVID-19, insufficient sleep can erode immune function and reduce the effectiveness of vaccines.

      The consequences of sleep loss can arise quickly. Ongoing sleep loss consequences can also build up over time, contributing to significant long-term health problems.

      With sleep procrastination, the effects of sleep deprivation may become even more worrisome. Sleep deprivation has been linked to reduced self-regulation and impulse control, which means that sleep procrastination may become part of a reinforcing negative cycle of reduced sleep and worse overall health.

      How to Prevent Sleep Procrastination?

      The best remedy for sleep procrastination is healthy sleep hygiene, which involves creating good sleep habits and an environment conducive to sleep.

      Having set routines can make behaviors feel almost automatic. For this reason, a nighttime routine can reduce the impulse to stay up later instead of going to bed. Examples of positive sleep habits include:

      • Keeping a consistent bedtime and wake-up time, including on non-working days
      • Avoiding alcohol or caffeine late in the afternoon or evening
      • Stopping the use of electronic devices, including cell phones and tablets, for at least half-an-hour, and ideally longer, before bed
      • Developing a stable routine to use every night to prepare for bed

      Relaxation methods, such as reading a book, meditating, or gently stretching, can be part of your bedtime routine and help ease you into sleep. Relaxation techniques may also decrease the stress that can drive revenge bedtime procrastination.

      Creating an inviting bedroom environment that is dark and quiet and has a comfortable mattress and bedding can also make going to sleep more appealing. An inviting sleep space may counteract the desire to sacrifice sleep for leisure activities.

      If you find that your sleep problems are ongoing or causing notable daytime sleepiness, talk with a doctor who can review your sleep habits, determine if you are affected by a sleep disorder, and create a plan to help you get better rest.

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