What Exactly Is Revenge Bedtime Procrastination?

There are ways to overcome it.

How It Started

Picture this scenario. You’ve just had an exhausting day of back to back Zoom meetings and organising your kids’ online classes on top of your daily chores. But, when night time looms, instead of tucking yourself into bed, you find yourself either binge-watching your favourite shows or actively scrolling your social media account despite feeling really tired and sleepy.

Some might argue that this is an act of FOMO (fear of missing out) but in fact, this kind of activity or rather behaviour has a name. It’s called bedtime revenge procrastination, and you’re not the only one going through it. It’s not new, but the term was first circulated on the Chinese internet. It’s not just simply about delaying your sleep schedule, it’s about taking revenge or you trying to regain control of your life. 

Two years prior to this revelation, researchers in the Netherlands defined “bedtime procrastination” as “failing to go to bed at the intended time, while no external circumstances prevent a person from doing so.” The word “revenge” was later added to China’s social media platforms. It is fully a trend in modern-day workers resisting sleeping early to seize the freedom of the night hours.

woman overhead shot watching netflix

Why We Experience It

What’s the motivation behind this, you ask? In an interview last year, psychotherapist Daryl Appleton said it is simply due to the sense of control we get by procrastinating on sleep. He elaborated and explained that when we don’t feel like we can control our days, we compensate by exercising control over our nights in order to feel less disempowered. We can’t avoid working or responsibilities as parents, but we can choose what we can do when all our duties for the day are completed.

This behaviour has significantly increased during the pandemic. The demand for our time has increased during the work-from-home period. Researcher, and behavioral scientist at Harvard Business School, Ashley Whillans, Ph.D., revealed the outcome of her findings in Glamour last year. She studied how people were using their time during the pandemic in five countries, including America. 

Women, especially mothers, spend more time on childcare and household chores than fathers do. At the beginning of the pandemic, young women spent less time on leisure than their male counterparts. Whillans said it could be because women may have more demands on their times as they could be parents managing Zoom school, and their full-time jobs at the same time. Workdays last longer because there’s no clear separation of when we should stop. Whillans “Emotional detachment from work is hugely important for job satisfaction. But the end-of-our-workday ritual has gone missing in the virtual environment,” she said.

Loneliness is possibly another factor as we yearn for human connection in the time of social distancing as opposed to peace and tranquility. We are essentially social animals, and social media provides us with access to other people’s social lives that especially right now is less available. Scrolling through your phone at night allows us to “imagine alternative realities of things we could be doing.” 

woman lounging on the couch while watching TV

How We Can Overcome It

Fret not, as there are ways to stop this behaviour. Laurie Santos, Ph.D., the director of the Comparative Cognition Lab at Yale revealed that much research indicated that feeling like you have a bit of free time is crucial. Many of the problems that drive revenge sleep procrastination come from feeling depressed, and being too burned out to enjoy your day can be helped by simply getting more sleep. It is not a cure-all solution but it is a start in potentially breaking the “revenge bedtime” cycle. 

It is also recommended that you set some boundaries during the day. It’s natural to want freedom and the ability to do whatever you want in your life, but, you need to find ways to achieve that before sundown. Try reading a book during your lunch break or set one night a week to stay up by yourself when you can sleep in a little later and try to take more time for your own needs on the other days. 

At the end of the day, wellness is wanting to build a life you don’t want to escape from. There are no simple tips for making this happen. If you feel like you’re only living at night, you should consider making changes in your life, both minor and major. Consider switching careers, adopt fulfilling hobbies, or set better boundaries with work for a better quality of life.

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