Do you sacrifice sleep for some free time at the end of the day? Whether it’s doom-scrolling on the phone in bed, or binge-watching a new show, many find themselves staying up later than they should in order to have a little "me" time.
This phenomenon is known as "revenge bedtime procrastination," and while it may seem harmless, sleep deprivation can impact one’s mental and physical health.
For parents chasing around little ones all day, or those in high-stress jobs with long hours, revenge bedtime procrastination is a way to find a few hours of entertainment despite getting insufficient sleep, according to the nonprofit, The Sleep Foundation.
The foundation adds that understanding sleep procrastination, including its causes, and consequences, can help people recognize when they're engaging in it – and also take steps to prevent it.
The ‘procrastination’ part of bedtime
There are three factors needed for a late sleeping time to be considered "bedtime procrastination," according to the Sleep Foundation.
This includes 1) a delay in going to sleep that reduces one’s total sleep time, 2) the absence of a valid reason for staying up later than intended (such as an illness), and 3) an awareness that delaying one’s bedtime could lead to negative consequences.
Bedtime procrastination behaviors are similar to procrastination in other ways, like putting off household chores or homework.
"Procrastinating on sleep doesn’t usually generate negative associations like those other obligations, however," the Sleep Foundation said. "Instead, sleep may be curtailed in favor of activities that offer more immediate enjoyment, such as watching TV, spending time with friends, or playing video games."
Procrastinating on sleep can mean delaying the act of physically getting into bed and delaying the time of trying to fall asleep once in bed – an issue only further exacerbated by smartphones.
"For most people, that means being in bed on their phones doom-scrolling or scrolling through social media," said Dr. Alicia Roth, a sleep psychologist for the Cleveland Clinic. "And social media never ends, it can keep going and keep going and keep going."
Research on bedtime procrastination is still in its early stages, but one study published in 2019 found that students and women were most likely to engage in it. Sleep procrastination also appears to be more frequent in people who procrastinate in other aspects of their life, according to the Sleep Foundation.
Where does the ‘revenge’ aspect come from?
The term "bedtime procrastination" was used as early as 2014 by Dutch social and behavioral scientist Floor M. Kroese, according to the Sleep Foundation.
But there’s also a newer "revenge" aspect to the concept, which is where one takes revenge on the day, feeling like they didn’t have enough time for themselves.
The addition of the word "revenge" to bedtime procrastination was popularized in recent years thanks to social media, including from a tweet by journalist Daphne Lee in 2020, which referenced the Chinese phrase bàofùxìng áoyè, or "retaliatory staying up late."
Lee described it as "a phenomenon in which people who don’t have much control over their daytime life refuse to sleep early in order to regain some sense of freedom during late night hours."
The post spread rapidly on X, then known as Twitter, including one reply that garnered more than 4,000 likes.
"That’s common for people having long hours at work (doing things they don’t like)," the user replied. "Typical 8 to 8 in office, arrive home after dinner and shower it’s 10pm, probably won’t just go to sleep and repeat the same routine. A few hours of ‘own time’ is necessary to survive."
Revenge bedtime procrastination could lead to insomnia, other health issues
While it might feel good in the moment, Roth said that a lack of sleep will catch up with everyone, with some concerning consequences.
"In the long term, this can go from a choice, choosing not to sleep, into an insomnia, where I can’t fall asleep," Roth said. "Because if this is something you do routinely, your body and your brain are going to start to learn I get into bed and I scroll, or I get into bed and I do something else. And it starts to lose the association between bed and sleep."
Simply put, procrastinating going to bed can cause sleep deprivation. This means the mind and body can’t properly recharge, leading to "widespread negative effects on health," according to the Sleep Foundation.
Insufficient sleep impacts one’s ability to think, remember, and make decisions. It’s also tied to irritability and other difficulties regulating emotions, as well as mental health disorders like depression and anxiety.
Physically, sleep deprivation can make people more susceptible to cardiovascular problems, metabolic disorders like diabetes, and erode the body’s immune system function, according to the nonprofit.
How to stop revenge bedtime procrastination
The best way to prevent this behavior is to create good sleep habits and an environment conducive to sleep, according to the Sleep Foundation.
This includes positive sleep habits like:
- A consistent bedtime and wake-up time, including on non-working days
- Avoiding alcohol or caffeine late in the afternoon or evening
- Stopping the use of electronic devices, including cell phones and tablets, for at least 30 minutes before bed
- Developing a pre-bed routine every night to prepare for sleep
Roth with the Cleveland Clinic recommends using smartphones and other electronics in another room until you’re tired, so that the bed is only associated with sleep.
Furthermore, be mindful of the type of content you’re watching or reading and only consume the content that will relax you.
This story was reported from Cincinnati.