Updated: Sep 30, 2022
Do you stay up late despite feeling exhausted and needing to rise early the next morning? Let’s admit it, the wee hours of the night have become our favorite time to indulge in online shopping, TikTok, and Netflix.
This behavior is known as ‘revenge bedtime procrastination’. Originated from the Chinese term bàofùxìng áoyè (报复性熬夜), it characterizes a growing phenomenon in which people delay bedtime to engage in leisure activities they don’t have time for during the day (1). And unfortunately, this guilty pleasure is contributing to the sleep deprivation epidemic.
So, what can we do as busy individuals to pack in leisure while preventing the deleterious health hazards that come with lack of sleep?
The Psychology of Revenge Bedtime Procrastination
Stressful employees, busy parents, frantic students - people with little time to themselves are more likely to indulge in revenge bedtime procrastination. They often feel a lack of freedom during the workday, hence they try to claw back a few hours of downtime before they repeat their busy routine.
But burning the candle at both ends comes with a price - lack of sleep. According to the 2019 Phillips Global Survey, 62% of adults globally don’t get sufficient sleep, averaging 6.8 hours on a weeknight versus the recommended amount of eight hours (2). And 37% blamed their hectic work or school schedule.
Long-term sleep deprivation can lead to a host of harmful effects, both mental and physical (3). As author and neuroscientist, Matthew Walker bluntly put it, “The shorter your sleep, the shorter your life span.” The worst part is, people know this, yet still keep their late nights.
What Worsens Revenge Bedtime Procrastination?
A 2014 study published in the journal Frontiers of Psychology suggested that revenge bedtime procrastination was negatively correlated with self-regulation (4). While people who engage in this behavior want to sleep, their behaviors do not align with their intentions.
Poor work-home boundaries
Stress-related to the 2019 global pandemic also appeared to worsen the behavior. Reports suggest that around 40% of adults experienced increased problems with sleep during 2020 (5). While work-from-home policies have granted us safety and flexibility, it seems to have muddied the tenuous boundaries between work, home, and school.
Preventing Revenge Bedtime Procrastination
Research has highlighted that failure to detach from work can lead to stress, burnout, and compromised health (6). But sacrificing sleep to unwind isn’t ideal either. That’s why solving this dilemma requires some lifestyle tweaks to help us reap the best of both worlds. Here’s how:
1) Assess your daytime schedule
If your calendar is filled to the brim with only tasks that leave you unfulfilled and drained, it’s time to reprioritize.
While we can’t run away from tasks related to work and parenting, we can try to scale down on tasks that aren’t urgent or seek help by delegating. By doing so, you create some breathing space and control throughout the day. And ultimately, you won’t be tempted to avenge those lost hours at night.
2) Have a nighttime routine
Keeping a consistent nighttime routine is one of the best remedies for revenge bedtime procrastination. That’s because you promote healthy sleep hygiene such as building good habits and an environment that encourages sleep.
A nighttime routine also creates a mental distance from your work, helping you detach and wind down. These routines don’t have to be complicated or time-consuming, even a mere 15-minute routine does wonder. Here are some ideas:
Doing relaxing activities, such as reading a book, journaling, meditating or stretching
Creating an inviting bedroom environment that is dark, cool, and quiet
Taking a warm bath lowers your body’s core temperature and relaxes tense muscles
3) Create a digital sunset
With blurred work-home boundaries, it’s easy to glue ourselves to emails and Slack messages even when we’re in bed. However, the light from our devices suppresses our natural production of melatonin which is required for sleep. This inability to fall asleep further reinforces the procrastination cycle by encouraging us to seek entertainment from our screens.
To remediate this, establish a digital sunset. One hour before bedtime, dim the lights in your room and turn off your digital devices. If you need your phone on, install a blue light filtering app and turn off notifications. You can also try blue-light blocking glasses or use blue-light-free night lights after sunset.
Revenge bedtime procrastination is indeed a challenging habit to break. I mean, who wouldn’t want to catch up on that trendy new Netflix show after a long day?
But it’s essential to know that we need quality shuteye to prevent feeling utterly exhausted. And since the behavior is greatly motivated by a lack of control during the day, awareness about how we spend our days is often the first step toward overcoming bedtime procrastination.
Read other Sleep & Mental Health Related Resources:
- 3 Habits For A Good Night Sleep
- 3 Ways Poor Sleep is Affecting Your Mental Health (And What You Can Do About It)
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