Revenge Bedtime Procrastination Is Ruining Your Sleep — Here's How to Deal
It's the age of both hustle culture and "treat yo' self" culture. IRL, this combo manifests as burnout-inducing, 10-hour workdays, followed by another few hours spent binging Netflix and scrolling through TikTok in the name of relaxation. And no matter how sleepy you feel once your bedtime hits, you might put off hitting the hay and tell yourself, "just 10 more minutes."
This before-bed stalling, known as revenge bedtime procrastination, seems relatively harmless, but it could have short- and long-term impacts on your energy levels and your health. Thankfully, though, getting your sleep schedule back on track doesn't have to be a challenge. Here, sleep experts share tips on how to finally put your revenge bedtime procrastination to rest — and explain why you struggle to get to bed in the first place.
What Is Revenge Bedtime Procrastination?
Simply put, revenge bedtime procrastination (RBP) is the act of delaying your bedtime in order to engage in the leisure activities you didn't have the free time for throughout the day, says Jennifer Kanady, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist with expertise in the research and treatment of sleep disorders and a senior clinical development lead at Big Health.
Though you may feel like you've been practicing RBP your entire adulthood, the concept of "bedtime procrastination" itself wasn't named in scientific literature until 2014, defined as "going to bed later than intended while no external circumstances are accountable for doing so." The word "revenge," however, wasn't added to the mix until 2020, when journalist Daphne K. Lee posted a now-viral tweet describing revenge bedtime procrastination as a way for folks who aren't in charge of their daytime hours to "regain some sense of freedom during late-night hours."
And that's often the crux of the practice: "When people feel like they don't have enough free time or they have some sort of lack of control in their life, they feel like pushing their bedtime later allows them to have control over their day," adds Andrea Matsumura, M.D., M.S., F.A.C.P., a sleep medicine physician at The Oregon Clinic and member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine's Public Safety Committee.
Still, revenge bedtime procrastination isn't just staying up late. In order to qualify as RBP, there also has to be no valid reason to explain the delay in your bedtime (think: illness) and a knowledge that this procrastination will lead to negative consequences, according to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (IJERPH). For example, you might put off going to bed in order to watch the next episode of your favorite Netflix show or scroll through TikTok for another half hour — and not care that doing so will make you feel sluggish the next day.
The Causes of Revenge Bedtime Procrastination
Since revenge bedtime procrastination is still a recently developed concept, more research is needed to fully understand the causes, says Kanady. That said, there are a few factors that may be up your odds of practicing RBP, including experiencing stress during the day. In that instance, you might choose to stay up late engaging in your hobbies or other leisure activities — rather than catch some zzz's — in an effort to unwind and decompress, she explains.
During the topsy-turvy COVID-19 pandemic, revenge bedtime procrastination can also be a way to reclaim some sense of power over your life, adds Dr. Matsumura. "'Revenge bedtime procrastination has become much more common over the last few years, especially due to the pandemic and the feelings of loss of control [associated] with it," she explains. "...one of the ways that they may work on developing some control is through revenge bedtime procrastination."
Certain personality traits are also linked with revenge bedtime procrastination. Specifically, folks who struggle with general procrastination (think: putting off working on a big project or household chores) or are lacking self-control may also be more likely to experience RBP, according to research published in IJERPH. "And the great irony here is that self-control worsens following sleep deprivation," says Kanady. "You can see how somebody could get trapped in a cycle of bedtime procrastination and poor self-control."
Your personal circadian rhythm and chronotype (re: your body's preferred wake and rest times throughout a 24-hour period) play a role, too. People who have an eveningness chronotype — aka "night owls" — may be more likely to practice revenge bedtime procrastination, says Kanady. "Everybody's circadian preference is different, which leads some people to be considered night owls," she explains. "In other words, their circadian rhythms tell them that they prefer to go to bed later and wake up later." If your set bedtime is 10 p.m. but you still feel wired until midnight, you might put off hitting the hay and use that time playing video games or swiping on Bumble — even though you know you'll feel exhausted when your alarm goes off at 6 a.m.
The Impacts of Revenge Bedtime Procrastination
Reminder: The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends scoring seven or more hours of sleep each night. By delaying your bedtime — without pushing back your wake-up time, too — you're bound to feel sleep-deprived, says Dr. Matsumura. "You'll be less productive, and you may have even more stress because, when you're in a sleep-deprived state, you're less able to manage the day-to-day activities in your life," she explains.
In the long-term, revenge bedtime procrastination can exacerbate existing sleep disorders, such as insomnia, and lead to chronic sleep deprivation, which can have serious health impacts, says Dr. Matsumura. "This increases negative mood state, excessive daytime fatigue, and loss of or a decrease in your cognitive function, so you'll have problems with attention, concentration, and memory," she explains. "You may have an increase in headaches. Even worse, you may have cognitive or motor performance impairments, [which] are comparable to those that we see in people who have consumed alcohol above the legal limit."
More significantly, chronic sleep deprivation can increase your risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, heart failure, and stroke, according to the Cleveland Clinic. "Sleep is vital — I call it the juggernaut for everything else to fall into place in your life," says Dr. Matsumura. "If you are chronically sleep-deprived, it's almost as though your body is going to be playing a tune in the wrong key. We can't underestimate how important sleep really is for our vitality and longevity."
How to Deal with Revenge Bedtime Procrastination
Establish a Sleep Schedule
The first, and simplest, step to combatting revenge bedtime procrastination: Create a regular sleep schedule and try your best to stick with it, suggests Kanady. "Our circadian rhythms love regularity, and keeping a regular sleep-wake schedule can be helpful for mapping circadian rhythms onto the 24-hour day and promoting healthy sleep," she explains.
While keeping to a sleep routine can often be easier said than done, receiving support from your roommates or family members and using an alarm for your bedtime and wake time can help you stay on track, says Kanady. Similarly, setting boundaries around work and social commitments — and saying "no" when you need to — can help you stick with your sleep schedule, adds Dr. Matsumura.
Step Back from Electronics
Hate to break it to you, but stopping your Instagram browsing mere moments before going to bed isn't doing you any good. "The light emitted from these devices is often bright enough to block the release of melatonin, an important hormone for preparing the brain and body for sleep," Kanady explains. "Second, a lot of what we are doing on these devices — going on social media, reading the news, playing games, work-related activities — has an alerting effect, and we want to be relaxing before bed." To ensure you actually start snoozing at your predetermined bedtime, turn off your electronics and start preparing yourself for sleep at least one hour before you get into bed, suggests Dr. Matsumura.
Create a Wind-down Routine
"Giving yourself enough sleep is just like anything else in your life — it's a routine that you have to develop," says Dr. Matsumura. To prepare your body for restful zzz's and prevent revenge bedtime procrastination, create a pre-sleep routine that gets you into a relaxed headspace. Steer clear of electronics and engage in activities that are unwinding and enjoyable (think: mediation, journaling, reading), preferably in dim lighting, suggests Kanady. "It should be something that you look forward to and that also serves as a great way to decompress following a stressful day," she says.
Establish a Sleep Sanctuary
In an ideal world, your bedroom should be used solely for sleeping (or intimate moments) — meaning you should avoid watching TV, snacking, and working in the space, says Dr. Matsumura. Keep the room as dark, cool, and quiet as possible, and "really do your best to make getting into bed something to look forward to!" adds Kanady.
Plan Leisure Activities for Non-Work Days
If you're consistently staying up past your bedtime crafting or watching your favorite shows on work nights, schedule some time to do those activities on the weekends — and actually block that time off on your calendar, suggests Kanady. "Knowing that you have designated time to engage in these activities can give you something to look forward to and get you in the practice of engaging in these activities during non-sleep hours," she explains.
Chat with a Sleep Doctor
Putting these sleep hygiene tips into practice will likely help nip revenge bedtime procrastination in the bud and get your zzz's back on track. But if you're still waking up feeling completely drained, no matter how closely you stick with these habits, consider seeking out a sleep medicine clinician to get to the bottom of your fatigue, says Dr. Matsumura. "It could be some other underlying sleep disorder that you're unaware of," she says. "When you're employing all the right habits and you still feel like something is missing, something else could be going on."