Respite? More like ReSPITE!
By Mehak Butt
Have you ever chosen to sacrifice sleep to binge-watch something on Netflix? You might be experiencing “revenge bedtime procrastination.”
Picture this: You’ve come home after a long day of work or school and you’re tired and sleepy. But you don’t want to sleep just yet. You owe it to yourself to have a little “you” time, just a time to relax and have fun after attending to your responsibilities all day. The problem is, it’s now night, and you don’t have many hours left in the day for relaxing. You should probably sleep since you have to wake up early tomorrow. But instead, you find yourself staying up later than you intend or even really want to—all for the sake of having some fun. If this has ever happened to you, then you’ve experienced what is known as “revenge bedtime procrastination.”
Revenge bedtime procrastination, also known as bedtime procrastination or sleep procrastination, is the decision to delay sleep in response to stress or lack of free time during the day.1 The term originated from a translation of a Chinese expression that described how people who have no control over their daytime life would refuse to sleep early to gain back some of their freedom during the night. It became popular on social media following a tweet by journalist Daphne K Lee in June 2020.2 The reason it’s “revenge” is that it’s essentially a retaliatory response to the loss of free time during daylight hours.
According to the Sleep Foundation, three factors are necessary for a sleep pattern to be considered revenge bedtime procrastination. The first is delaying what time you go to sleep, reducing your total sleep time.3 For example, you might have to wake up at 8 a.m. the next day, but you deliberately chose to sleep late to do something else. The second factor is the lack of a valid reason to stay up late, such as being at an event or having an illness.4 For example, choosing to stay up to watch binge-watch YouTube videos isn’t a good reason to stay up late. The final factor is being aware that delaying sleep will lead to negative consequences the next day.5 That means knowing full well that you need to wake up early tomorrow yet choosing to stay up till 5 a.m. watching random cat videos anway.
There isn’t an exact reason people procrastinate on sleep. A lot of people who experience revenge bedtime procrastination want to sleep but don’t. One theory is that there’s a failure in self-regulation or self-control. A person’s capacity for self-control is at the lowest at the end of the day, so it’s easier to procrastinate on sleep. There’s also a possibility that people who tend to procrastinate in general during daytime activities are inclined to procrastinate on sleep as well. Another theory is that some people might naturally be night owls and that sleep procrastination results from them being forced to adapt to “early bird” schedules. But as the term implies, revenge bedtime procrastination may also just be an attempt to regain recovery time as a response to stress.6 Since work and school schedules also take up a large part of a person’s day, there is very little time left for leisure activities.7
Sacrificing sleep has negative impacts on health. Sleep deprivation can cause poor cognitive function and decision-making and make it harder to regulate emotions. It can also lead to mental health disorders such as depression.8 It’s not just mental health that’s affected. Lack of sleep can also increase the risks of high blood pressure, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and obesity.9 It can even lead to a weakened immune system and reduce the effectiveness of vaccines as well, which can be a major problem in light of COVID-19.10
There isn’t a surefire way to prevent revenge bedtime procrastination. While the most obvious solution would be to change your sleeping habits, it’s not that simple or easy, especially since the whole reason for this phenomenon is a conscious decision to delay sleep, even if you’re genuinely sleepy. The best solution is to set time aside in your schedule for taking breaks and relaxing. If you have a planned break, it may be easier to hold off on relaxing activities until you get to that point. Take 10- or 15-minute breaks during the day to decompress. Just the act of taking a small break during work can make it seem more manageable and might mitigate some stress. If you’re still overwhelmed, reach out to a mental health counselor or therapist. They can find ways to help you manage your stress or figure out the best approach to your problems. If all else fails, it might be worth looking into a new career or job that’s better suited to your schedule and offers a better work-life balance.11
Revenge bedtime procrastination is a concerning phenomenon, but it’s not talked about very often. In fact, our work culture encourages less sleep in favor of more productivity. After all, “sleep is for the weak.” But losing sleep has detrimental effects on one’s mental and physical health. That’s why it’s best to avoid the temptation in the first place. Finding a good balance between work and breaks during the day will prevent any attempt to overcompensate during the night. And a good sleep can prepare you for anything that lies ahead.
1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10. Eric Suni, “What Is ‘Revenge Bedtime Procrastination’?,” Sleep Foundation (OneCare Media, February 23, 2021), https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-hygiene/revenge-bedtime-procrastination
2, 7. Lu-Hai Liang, “The Psychology behind ‘Revenge Bedtime Procrastination’,” BBC Worklife (BBC, November 25, 2020), https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20201123-the-psychology-behind-revenge-bedtime-procrastination
9. Judith A. Owens, Rhoda Au, Mary Carskadon, Richard Millman, and Amy Wolfson, “School Start Times for Adolescents,” Pediatrics 134, no. 3 (September 1, 2014): pp. 642-649, https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2014-1697.
11. Taneasha White, “Revenge Bedtime Procrastination: The Reason You Were Up Until 2 A.m. Last Night,” Healthline (Healthline, March 24, 2021), https://www.healthline.com/health/sleep/revenge-bedtime-procrastination.
Since I was a student, I’ve always had days where I had so much work to do I didn’t have any free time during the day. After finishing all my homework, it would be around 11 p.m. I knew I should sleep because I had to wake up early for school the next day, but since I didn’t get to do anything fun, I’d forego sleep in favor of playing a video game. I’ve done something like this for years but never knew there was a name for it. It was only until a few months ago when I came across an article talking about “revenge bedtime procrastination” that I realized it was a documented concept in sleep science. I wanted to write about it and share this information with other people who’ve likely experienced the same thing but didn’t know it had a name.
Mehak Butt is a Muslim girl living in New York City. Her pastimes include reading books, playing video games, cosplaying and putting in the emotional labor to explain concepts about race and culture.