Adapted from an article first published on meQuilibrium.com
The clock read 1:30 a.m., and I should have been asleep. Instead, I was scrolling through Instagram, stopping to watch a cooking video. This was after I'd Googled plant stores in my area, looking for a particular type of dracaena for my new apartment. And caught up on the news. And read a few chapters of my book.
I knew I’d be tired the next morning — lights out are usually by 11 p.m.—but a long day of writing hadn’t wrapped up until late that evening. So I had no time earlier for activities that I enjoy.
Does this sound like something you do? Put off sleep for pleasurable activities you can’t squeeze in during the day? Turns out there’s a name for it: revenge bedtime procrastination. The National Sleep Foundation even recognizes it, describing it as “the decision to sacrifice sleep for leisure time that is driven by a daily schedule lacking in free time.”
The term “bedtime procrastination” was introduced by a behavioral scientist from the Netherlands and appeared in a 2014 paper in Frontiers in Psychology. The word “revenge” was added more recently, evolving from an expression in Chinese that roughly translates to “retaliatory staying up late.” It reflected workers’ frustrations over long, stressful days that left little time for personal enjoyment. The phrase took off after journalist Daphne K. Lee referenced it in a tweet that went viral. Clearly, it resonated.
We seek revenge by rebelling against the ever-increasing demands of work and home, which for many people became more pronounced during the pandemic. “Working at home, we wake up in the morning and go right to our computers or reach for the phone,” says Crescent Health's sleep scientist in residence, Jenna Gress Smith, Ph.D. “We’ve blurred the boundaries between work and home, which eliminates some moments of downtime and meaningful self-care.”
As a result, we’re left with little time to pursue hobbies or do something we love. People engaging in this behavior are often seeking comfort from a stressful day as well. “They want to regain something they feel they’ve lost, or are just trying to distract their minds,” says Gress Smith.
Making time for leisure, relaxation, and self-care is important for your well-being. And the occasional late-late night probably won’t affect your health. But when revenge bedtime procrastination becomes a habit, that’s a problem. “There are so many ways that sleep deprivation can affect our ability to function the next day, and our physical and mental health over time,” says Gress Smith.
If you’ve been edging closer to chronic bedtime procrastination, here are five tips for getting you and your sleep back on track.
1. Work micro-moments of relaxation into your day.
Schedule some 5- to 10-minute breaks throughout the day. Whether you take a walk, have a coffee, text a friend, or do some stretches, make it something that’s relaxing and enjoyable.
2. Prune your schedule.
Since too little free time is often at the root of revenge bedtime procrastination, take a hard look at your daily demands. Cut back on unnecessary tasks or consider eliminating things that are eating up your time but are leaving you unhappy or unfulfilled. “When we don’t see the value in our daily time commitments, or we overcommit and don’t set realistic expectations, we’re more likely to seek ‘revenge’ at night,” Gress Smith says.
3. Put a hard stop to the end of your workday.
Gress Smith suggests scheduling your last meeting no later than an hour before the end of your day to create a separation of work and home life. If you unconsciously work late, try setting an alarm. As the day draws to a close, write a to-do-list for the next day. “This will help clarify in your mind that the day is over, and it’s time to transition to evening mode,” she says. “Setting up those boundaries is really important.”
4. Create a relaxing bedtime routine.
Activities like reading a book, listening to relaxing music, or gently stretching can be part of your bedtime routine and help ease you into sleep mode. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation may also decrease the stress that can drive revenge bedtime procrastination.
Begin your nightly wind-down routine earlier than you normally would. Allowing this extra transition time helps encourage sleepiness, so you’ll resist the urge to stay up late. “Our minds and bodies are not light switches that just switch off for sleep,” Gress Smith says. “Usually, space and time are needed for sleep to unfold, and that’s why downtime is so important.”
5. Keep a gratitude journal.
To help you feel less vengeful, reflect on your day, taking note of what went right and small wins, says Gress Smith. Those reflections help calm parts of the brain associated with our stress response, she says, “taking the focus off the day’s stressors and allowing for a smoother transition to sleep.”
Downtime is important — the body and mind need the space to relax and restore. What's key is finding the time without sacrificing sleep.