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Revenge bedtime procrastination: Why we do it and how to stop

A man looking at his phone at night.

Imagine this scenario: You just got home from your 9-to-5. You’re exhausted, but dinner isn’t going to make itself, is it now?

Your spouse is running late and won’t be home for another hour. Somehow, you have to get dinner on the table, help the kids do their homework, drive one of them to their math tutoring lesson (and pick them up), pay some bills online, clean the cat’s litter box, and run a load or two of laundry. 

There are probably a bunch of other tasks that still need to get done, but you can’t remember what they are right now. And that’s just as well, because there aren’t enough hours in the day to get them all done anyway.

It’s now 10:45 p.m. The kids are all in bed, your spouse is dealing with the kitty litter situation, and all you have to do now is finish up cleaning the dishes from dinner and throw that load of laundry in the dryer.

And you really need to get to it, because you’ve got to be up at 5:30 a.m. to drive your other kid to their swim practice before school. It’s times like these when you wonder why you and your husband decided to have so many gosh darn children.

11:04 p.m. arrives and you’ve done nothing over the past 19 minutes except stare off into space while slouching in the big red lounge chair in the living room. The house is a mess, but at least it’s dark and quiet—something you’ve really come to appreciate in the late hours of the evening.

Your spouse tells you that they’re heading off to bed. You mumble something about going to bed soon too.

You glance over to the kitchen, then glance over to the laundry room. The dishes can wait until morning, can’t they? 

You promise yourself you’ll throw that laundry in the dryer before you go upstairs to bed. But first, you get the urge to pull out your phone. You open Facebook, scroll a bit, then move to Twitter (scroll… scroll… scroll…) Instagram, (scroll… scroll…) and then you cycle through them all over again.

You’re not sure what you’re looking at or looking for. It’s just got to be something—literally anything—that can help take your mind off of the day and the never ending list of tasks.

You find yourself getting lost in the comment section of a Facebook post from a friend who shared something that’s probably fake news. Next, you become hypnotized by Instagram Reels of dogs doing funny tricks in stunning synchronicity to music playing in the background.

You enjoy the Reels, and that somehow convinces you that you should download Tik Tok to see what all the hype is about. Maybe not the smartest decision to make at 11:38 at night, but you’re intrigued and curious.

You can barely think, let alone keep your eyes open, and yet you continue to tap and scroll on whatever cheap source of entertainment you can find on whichever social app you have open at the moment. It’s exhausting, but also strangely satisfying.

It’s now 12:22 a.m and over an hour has passed since you told your spouse you were coming to bed. But the urge to just sit there and let your mind succumb to frivolous distraction is just too strong…

The Growing Trend in Taking “Revenge” Over Our Daytime Schedules

It isn’t just working moms who stay up late for a little extra “me” time. Anyone who works, goes to school, cares for others, or takes on any number of other responsibilities is prone to procrastinate going to bed.

But what is this whole “revenge” thing about? Surely, you can’t take revenge on a mental concept like your daytime schedule, can you?

Maybe not, but people still try. Chinese were the first to coin the term in their own language and on their own social networks, which roughly translates to “revenge bedtime procrastination” in English. 

The whole idea is to retaliate against the lack of free time you have during your day by sacrificing sleep in order to make up for it—even when you’re incredibly tired and actually want to go to sleep. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that you’re taking revenge over that part of yourself that’s allowing your mind and body to be controlled by your schedule.

Why People Engage in Revenge Bedtime Procrastination

It makes sense that if someone is always going, going, going during the day, they’d crave even an ounce of downtime before turning in for the night. 

But there’s more to revenge bedtime procrastination than meets the eye. After a particularly busy or draining day, we tend to be more physically, mentally, and emotionally depleted. This makes it a lot harder to exercise self-control, which could explain why people find it so difficult to stop whatever they’re doing at night and actually go to bed.

Then there’s the thought that revenge bedtime procrastinators have problems with procrastination in general. It’s just amplified at bedtime because self-control is so low.

And finally, some people have a natural inclination to be “night owls,” which could help explain their tendency to stay up later than necessary. They naturally have more active minds and bodies at night—even when they might be tired from a busy day or suffering from sleep deprivation.

The Health Risks of Being a Revenge Bedtime Procrastinator

It’s pretty obvious that if you’re procrastinating going to bed, you’re going to lose precious sleep time. And less time spent sleeping means you’re at a greater risk of ending up sleep deprived.

Sleep deprivation is associated with:

    • Attention, judgment, memory, thinking, and learning problems
    • Mood problems including anxiety, depression, paranoia, impulsiveness, and thoughts of suicide
    • Lower sex drive
    • Increased appetite/cravings that can lead to weight gain
    • Weakened immune system
    • Increased rate of skin aging
    • Increased risk of heart disease
    • Increased risk of diabetes
    • High blood pressure

Research has also shown that sleep deprivation is associated with shorter lifespans. If you’re regularly getting five to six hours (or less) of sleep a night, then chances are you could be inadvertently shaving off years of your life.

Are You a Revenge Bedtime Procrastinator?

It’s completely understandable for any normal human being to seek out some extra personal time at the end of a busy day. And while it’s probably fine to indulge once in a while, it isn’t a great idea to turn it into a habit, for the sake of your health.

If you’re a revenge bedtime procrastinator, here’s what you can do to fix it:

Revamp your schedule to include personal time. If you’re not prioritizing free time, then it’s not likely to magically appear in your schedule. The only way to make it happen when you’re super busy is to schedule it in. Even 30 minutes to an hour a day is enough to make a difference.

Cut out, delegate, or ask for help on the things that still need to get done. You might find that in order to make time for yourself, you’ll need to sacrifice other things. Be honest with yourself: Do you really need to do everything? Chances are you can find something to cut back on or eliminate completely. For the things that absolutely must get done, look toward others. Is there someone you can hire to do the job better than you can? Or is there a friend or family member who can share the workload or responsibility with you?

Learn how to manage stress properly. Research shows that the more stress you face during the day, the more likely you’ll engage in revenge bedtime procrastination. Aim to schedule breaks throughout your day so you can self-regulate and take advantage of other stress management techniques.

Learn to take control over your procrastination habits. If procrastination is something you do any time of the day, whether in your personal or professional life, it’s probably worth looking into why you do it. You might just have a bad habit of avoiding things that are unpleasant, or it could stem from a different problem—like anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, or perfectionism.

Create a pre-bedtime routine. If you have no routine before turning in for the night, random distractions are more likely to pull you in. Stick to a regular time to go to bed every night, then work backwards from there. An hour before you plan to turn in, make a habit out of spending half of it perhaps cleaning up (or doing whatever it is you need to finish up for the night) and the other half engaging in a calming activity—like reading a book, taking a hot shower, or following along with a guided meditation.

Put strict limits on screen time close to bedtime. Watching television or scrolling the internet are entertaining activities that can easily suck us in when it’s the end of the day and we barely have the energy to do anything else. To break those bad habits, you have to either replace them with healthier habits, or make it harder for yourself to access the sources of those bad habits (such as by making your bedroom a “screen-free” zone).

Remember, You Only Have 24 Hours in a Day

When it comes to managing your day and nighttime schedule properly, it’s important to be realistic. No matter who you are, you only have 24 hours to work with each and every day.

If you know that you need an hour a day of personal time plus seven to eight hours of sleep a night to feel properly rested, then you need to accept the fact that you may not be able to do everything you’re currently doing in order to make time for that in a 24-hour period.

Sleep is important. So is having free time to spend the way you want to spend it. The balancing act may be tricky, but it’s worth putting the effort in to figure out a schedule that makes you happy, and keeps you healthy.

About the author

Elise Burley is a member of the editorial team. She has more than a decade of professional experience writing and editing on a variety of health topics, including for several health-related e-commerce businesses, media publications, and licensed professionals. When she’s not working, she’s usually practicing yoga or off the grid somewhere on her latest canoe camping adventure.