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After a long day of work and dealing with life, do you find yourself in the following scenario? You’re stretched out in bed, bathed in your phone’s screen light as you mindlessly scroll. Yes, it’s past your intended bedtime, and you’re tired. Yet, turning the phone off and heading to dreamland is not happening. You stubbornly resist – knowing full well you’ll be tired in the morning – again.
If you’re raising your hand, welcome to the club. This rebellious bedtime behavior is a thing, and it has a name: sleep procrastination or revenge sleep procrastination. It’s a psychological phenomenon where people stay up later than desired to gain some control over the night because they perceive themselves (perhaps subconsciously) to lack influence over the day’s events. Although not officially recognized as a psychiatric or sleep disorder like insomnia, sleep procrastination affects many, so let’s unpack what we know about the behavior and address how to overcome it.
We can trace the concept of sleep procrastination first to a Netherlands researcher and later to a viral tweet originating in China.
In 2014, a Dutch researcher named Floor Kroese studied people who voluntarily put off sleep and found a correlation between this lack of self-regulation and insufficient sleep, which she labeled as “sleep procrastination”. Next, in 2018, a tweet from user @daphnekylee in Taipei City went viral for describing the behavior as “revenge bedtime procrastination” – and Twitter went wild in agreement.
Fast forward to 2020, when a global pandemic forced many to transition from office jobs to work from home, completely upending lives. The shift from predictable routines filled with pockets of downtime during commutes and lunch breaks to a blurry work-life balance seemed to eliminate “me” time for many, thereby fueling the need to recapture that time late at night rather than sleep.
“Me” time is essential, as it is an opportunity to engage in downtime that focuses on relaxing and disengaging. In today’s hyperconnected world, we’re bombarded with distractions – which often lead to more distractions. You know what it looks like – you click a link to an article and find yourself sliding down a rabbit hole of related content. Although engaging online is fine, it’s not ideal when it prevents sleep.
Our bodies need sleep to recover. The National Sleep Foundation1 recommends between 7-9 hours a night for adults to reap sleep’s powerful restorative benefits. However, if sleep procrastination habitually gets in the way of your sleep, it can undoubtedly become detrimental to your overall well-being.
Stealing time from sleep to catch up on social media or watch Netflix may seem innocent enough; however, prolonged sleep procrastination practices that habitually rob you of sleep can negatively affect your health2 by contributing to decreased immune system function, reduced learning ability and memory, increased chances of developing anxiety or depression, increased risk of heart disease, or increased risk of car accidents.
As you can see, bedtime procrastination causes sleep deprivation that negatively affects health.. So why do so many of us do it? Studies have shown that the most common motivator for sleep procrastination is feeling deprived of “me” time, which seems to explain why women and students have a high propensity to succumb to the behavior3. However, if you check any of the following boxes, you are likely succumbing to revenge bedtime procrastination:
In all cases, except perhaps the night owls, the need to get “revenge” on days without free time by staying up late makes sense. Your awake hours are filled with working, chores, and seeing to others’ needs, leaving no time to see to your needs. So, you put off going to bed — even though you’re aware you’ll pay for it in the AM — out of frustration that you don’t have enough time in the day to do things that matter to you.
It’s your private time – and sleep can wait, right? No, it can’t wait – it’s a necessary function of health and well-being. So how do you correct the behavior to improve your sleep patterns? Unfortunately, practicing better habits to avoid revenge sleep procrastination is easier said than done. It takes diligence and work. However, the first step is recognizing the behavior for what it is – and hopefully, what you’ve read so far has accomplished this.
If sleep procrastination is robbing you of precious zzzs, there are steps you can take to work toward kicking the habit. As we already mentioned, being mindful of the issue is the first step. For example, if you’re engaging in bedtime procrastination because you are missing regular “me” time during the day, address this first. How can you rearrange your schedule and prioritize yourself? Who can you ask for help? Finding ways to manage your daily stresses and free up some downtime is important and can make deciding you’re “ready” for sleep at a reasonable hour easier.
Next, think about how you spend your time leading up to sleep. For example, alcohol and caffeine can be sleep disruptive. So, limiting your intake late in the day and at night is helpful. Getting ready for bed can be just as important as getting in bed to sleep. Establishing a sleep-oriented nighttime routine can help with mindset. Following are some sleep tips from Terry Cralle, RN – sleep expert, author, and educator that can help you achieve the right pro-sleep mindset to avoid sleep procrastination:
Develop a “wind-down” bedtime routine by engaging in activities that calm your mind, such as taking a walk, soaking in a bath, or listening to music while sipping a calming tea.
Create a zen sleeping space before you get in bed by lowering lights, adjusting the thermostat, and putting on loose and comfortable sleep clothes. The first two steps help produce melatonin, the body’s natural sleep hormone. The last step will ensure you are comfortable as you fall asleep.
And finally – and MOST importantly – avoid phone and tablet screens in bed, as the blue screen light interrupts your circadian rhythm. Phones and other devices are a common bedtime procrastination culprit, not to mention the light and motion that distract you from falling asleep. If you simply cannot part with your phone or tablet in bed, change the background to a yellow light and limit your time on screen by setting a timer or alarm to signal bedtime.
Sleep procrastination is a prevalent issue that can feed a wide range of issues, such as lack of sleep, increased fatigue, and worse physical and mental health. Now that you know more about it, what can you do to improve your sleep patterns and regain the rest you deserve? Your process may involve the tips we’ve included or others that help you find peace at bedtime. Whatever tactics you choose, know you are helping your body by being mindful of its need to rest.
At the Better Sleep Council, we’re here to help you make bedtime the best time of the day. That’s why we’re always sharing helpful articles to help you get a good night’s rest. Be sure to signup for our newsletter to receive the latest news and updates. Cheers to a better night’s sleep!
This blog provides general information about sleep and sleep products. The words and other content provided in this blog, and in any linked materials, are not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified healthcare professional. This blog should not be construed as medical advice or used to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease or condition. If the reader or any other person has a medical concern, then he or she should consult with an appropriately licensed physician or other healthcare professional. This blog is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, and should not be relied upon to make decisions about your health or the health of others. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog or elsewhere on bettersleep.org. If you think you may have a medical emergency, then immediately call your doctor or dial 911.