Recently, a friend of mine jokingly mentioned she had diagnosed herself with something called revenge bedtime procrastination. The words immediately resonated. I was quite surprised to find that the internet provided several articles on the topic. Apparently a plethora of people, my friend, and myself included, push off sleep for some additional “me” time more often than not.
It’s not just, oh I’m not tired so let me just (insert activity here) before I go to bed. It’s a very deliberate evasion of sleep to give us a sense of control over a portion of our day.
A well-known United States Journalist, Daphne K. Lee, went viral over the internet on the topic: “Revenge Sleep Procrastination is a process in which people don’t control their day time routine and refuse to sleep to gain some sense of freedom during the late bedtime.” (The psychology behind ‘revenge bedtime procrastination’ – BBC Worklife)
According to Glamour, in the U.S. the pandemic has exacerbated everything that was already severed in a culture where work determines access to health care and sense of value. “The combination of a capitalist workday, mixed with work-from-home life and an ever growing attachment to our technology is the perfect storm that contributes to ‘revenge bedtime procrastination,’” says Aliza Shapiro, a clinical social worker and therapist in Manhattan. “Intuitively, we know we need to rest in order to become productive again, so when we lack the resource of relaxation during the day we try to find it in other places and times—even if it’s at the expense of our sleep.” (‘Revenge Bedtime Procrastination’ Is Real, According to Psychologists | Glamour)
The Chinese link it to stealing back your time after having been overstretched from work. This makes absolute sense, especially as it relates to the long hours the Chinese work. According to The psychology behind ‘revenge bedtime procrastination’ – BBC Worklife, “People are stuck in a Catch-22 when they don’t have time to detach from their work before they go to sleep, it is likely to negatively affect their sleep,” says Kelly. The real solution, she suggests, is to ensure that individuals are allowed time to engage in activities that provide this detachment. However, this is often not something employees can achieve by themselves.
This extends to other circumstances as well. It doesn’t necessarily only happen for employees working long hours. It can happen to those of us working healthy, normal hours, but feeling like our time isn’t our own related to other factors. As this snippet below by Deanna Pai mentions:
“This is a trend I’ve seen for years with women who are going, going, going,” says Shelby Harris, Psy.D., licensed clinical psychologist and author of “The Women’s Guide to Overcoming Insomnia.” They’re taking care of kids, going to work, and returning home only to tackle dinner, handle homework, or get ready for school the next day — like a hamster wheel of responsibilities. “They feel they don’t have a moment to themselves,” she explains. “As a result, they just want some time to ‘do nothing’ and decompress.”
Sleep tends to be the easiest thing to sacrifice, says Harris, as we see it as time we could spend doing more enjoyable things.
Avoiding bedtime, is something pretty much anyone who wants to extend the day on their terms does. The pandemic, it turns out, has enflamed the urge to do so. The way I see it, this revenge we are trying to get is carving out “me” time since there are little other outlets at the moment.
Perhaps we are using the delayed bedtime to scroll, text, watch movies, read, and evade sleep because it’s taking the place of other things we aren’t getting for ourselves right now. Prior to the pandemic I would go out for dinner or drinks twice a month. I would have social connection every weekend via playdates with my sons’ friends. That isn’t happening anymore. My daily routine is exactly the same and working from home means no in person connection other than with my children and my husband. Fortunately, I have a couple of friends that will periodically hike or have a playdate. On average it’s one get together roughly once a month, which as an extrovert, simply isn’t enough.
My husband has pointed out the feeling of normalcy he gets to have. As a chiropractor, he leaves the house each day to interact with his patients just as he did prior to the pandemic. Throughout the day, he also converses with his patients, receptionist, and his good friend whom he shares an office with. He feels badly because he knows his wife is at home, having little in person interaction for 11 months now. I mention him because he never has sleep procrastination. He is a creature of routine and makes sure to carve out time for himself every single day. He also goes to bed at around the same time consistently.
He sometimes asks me why in the world I’m not coming to bed, when he sees that my eyes are fighting to stay open. “It’s like you get mad at yourself for being tired,” he often says. This is why the word revenge that has strategically been placed in the name of this phenomenon makes perfect sense to me. It feels just like that…vengeful.
We are all collectively hitting the pandemic wall so to speak. As a result, I stay up late to feel like I’ve somehow made the day count. I evade sleep to prove to myself that damnit, I CAN do what I want, this is MY time. What will be the exciting plan tonight? Will I watch 6 episodes of The Leftovers, start reading my new book, scroll through social media, write a blog post?
During the last year, did we say screw you to our sleep to elongate the day? Hell yeah we did. Because in the back of our minds, it will be groundhog day again in the morning. Maybe staying up past our bedtime is some form of excitement during a time when nothing feels exciting? I’m always searching for the next available activity for our family, it’s just gotten a lot harder. This perpetuates the mundane routine, which makes the idea of going to sleep, only to wake up, and do the same thing all over again not-so-enticing. Pushing it off to find a mindless distraction may be how we’re inadvertently feeding our souls right now.
There are recommendations on how to go about dialing sleep procrastination back. Start with carving out “me” time in the evening with a hard stop for yourself of 10 or 11 p.m. Instead of allowing the episodes on your streaming platform to run into one another, stop after one episode and plan to do something else. Take inventory of your responsibilities and rate them. Can something be pushed off to tomorrow that will give you an extra 30 minutes today? Better time management can help.
Putting off sleep to do something for ourselves feels good in the immediate, but then we obviously pay for it the next day. Perhaps watching TV into the late night to avoid the eventual arrival of tomorrow, was a thing before smart phones were invented. Smart phones obviously make it that much easier to avoid going to bed. Turning off your phone at least one hour before bed is also recommended.
We all look forward to a time when we are active, engaging, and socializing more and regularly. When we are physically moving more than just down our basement stairs to our home office. My hope is we will be more mindful of shutting our brains off for the day when our heads hit the pillow. Let’s look forward to no longer feeling FOMO towards our very own “me” time. Throw that on the list of the many things we look forward to in the months ahead.
If you’re interested in reading further, here are some very interesting articles on this phenomenon:
Acknowledgements: Special thanks to Kristin Gustafson for suggesting this topic.