If you've ever found yourself doing anything but going to bed, you could be experiencing revenge bedtime procrastination. Here's why people procrastinate going to bed, plus how you can stop doing it, according to experts.
What is "revenge bedtime procrastination"?
Revenge bedtime procrastination happens when a person chooses to put off going to sleep in order to have more time in the evening. It usually happens when people don't feel they have enough time during the day, integrative psychiatrist and sleep specialist Nishi Bhopal, M.D., previously explained to mbg.
Where does it come from?
Bedtime procrastination was first coined in a 2014 study1 by Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Then, in 2020, journalist Daphne K. Lee brought "revenge bedtime procrastination" mainstream. Lee writes that it's "a phenomenon in which 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."
The name "revenge bedtime procrastination" is actually the English translation of a Chinese expression about working long hours and feeling that there's no time left for enjoyment.
As psychologist, sleep expert, and author of The Women's Guide to Overcoming Insomnia Shelby Harris, PsyD, CBSM, tells mbg, while it was only recently coined, it is an age-old issue and offers people a sense of control. And as Bhopal adds, "Those quiet nighttime hours are precious and often the only time we have to ourselves."
Who does it?
According to Harris, the people most likely to engage in revenge bedtime procrastination are those who feel like they don't get any time for themselves, don't get time to decompress, or are overly stressed.
"Parents frequently do this, as they're working and taking care of their kids and, once the kids go to bed, they finally decide to do things like binge-watch TV, read, or do anything they never really feel like they have the time to do," she adds.
How can I tell if I do it?
- You know you should be getting to sleep and are aware there could be consequences.
- You can't seem to stop scrolling, watching TV, etc., in the evenings.
- You don't have any real reason to still be awake, such as an obligation or event.
- It's not that you can't fall asleep. Instead, you are actively avoiding settling down.
Why is it a bad thing?
According to Harris, revenge bedtime procrastination can definitely compromise your sleep because it often leads to going to bed too late and not getting enough rest. "Plus," she adds, "you may not properly get a chance to decompress before bed, leading to more stress and awakenings, or a more 'alert' brain."
On top of that, you're not going to function as well the next day and will have more difficulty managing stress, creating a nasty cycle of poor sleep, Harris says.
And as the aforementioned 2014 research found, self-reported bedtime procrastination was related to "general reports of insufficient sleep above and beyond demographics and self-regulation."
How do I stop doing it?
Be intentional about it.
Bhopal and Harris both recommend being intentional about quitting your bedtime procrastination habit. "Remind yourself of why you want to get more sleep. How will making sleep a priority help you in your daily life? Write this down and put it somewhere you spend your evenings," Harris suggests.
Try a sleep supplement.
Give yourself plenty of time to wind down.
And speaking of wind-down routines, make sure you have plenty of time to complete yours before your bedtime. Harris recommends dedicating at least 30 to 60 minutes to decompress before bed without screens and using a firm stopping point when it's time for lights out.
Turn off "auto play."
If binge-watching is your downfall, Harris definitely recommends turning off the "autoplay" feature on streaming sites, so your latest binge-worthy show won't just keep playing into the night.
Make your days more enjoyable.
Because revenge bedtime procrastination stems from a desire for freedom and control that people feel is lacking during the day, Bhopal says you can target the problem right at the source by making your days more enjoyable—whatever that looks like for you.
"Don't forget to take time off if you need to," she adds, "and schedule time for things that you enjoy."
Set a timer on your phone.
Most phones nowadays have a bedtime setting, though you can also look for sleep and bedtime apps. Harris suggests setting a timer on your phone to help tell you when it's time to wind down.
Have an accountability partner.
Last but not least, kicking any bad habit is always easier when you have someone holding you accountable. Bhopal suggests enlisting the help of a friend or family member who can remind you to go to bed on time. Bonus points if they struggle with bedtime procrastination too, as you can both encourage each other. Simply pick your designated bedtime, and text each other to get to bed at that time every night.
The bottom line.
Revenge bedtime procrastination is a way for people to get the immediate gratification of leisure time in the evening—but at the high cost of quality sleep. The truth is, 10 more minutes on your phone, or one more episode of your show, can't make up for a good night of rest and an energized morning.
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Writer, as well as a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.