Revenge Bedtime Procrastination
Revenge bedtime procrastination: Does this sound familiar to you? You’ve just finished your day’s work, whether it’s a homework assignment, a work-related project, parental responsibilities or a combination of all. It’s time to go to bed and go to sleep. When you check the clock you know that it’s late and your much-needed sleep quota will suffer if you delay. But instead of calling it a night, you decide to open your laptop, browse through social media, watch another episode of your favourite show or play a few games on your phone. Before you know it, you’re into the early hours of the morning.
This might start as a harmless habit, but it can soon become a destructive cycle that can affect your mental and physical health. It can be frustrating enough battling with sleep problems when you’re suffering with anxiety you try, “you just can’t sleep”.
When you are actively postponing settling down to sleep, some might consider the delay more akin to a stubborn “you just won’t sleep”. But maybe there’s a much deeper issue behind this delay. Is it such a conscious act of delaying bedtime? It can be agreed that in both situations, you end up with insufficient sleep that ruins your day ahead. The “can’t sleeper” deserves empathy but maybe the “won’t sleeper” is struggling with their emotions too?
A psychological phenomenon called revenge bedtime procrastination has been used to describe this failure to go to bed at the intended time. So what causes this postponement and what is it a revenge on?
What is revenge bedtime procrastination?
In its basic form, revenge bedtime procrastination is the habit of delaying going to bed (and going to sleep) for no apparent reason even though you are aware it will have negative consequences on your day ahead.
Distinctions can be made about bedtime procrastination (delaying getting into bed) and whilst in-bed procrastination (delaying going to sleep), but both ultimately result in the deprivation of your sleep.
Bedtime procrastination is considered a form of revenge on your sleeping hours due to not having had enough pleasure, fun time or “me” time (in whatever form that might take) in your daylight hours. The perceived control that you lose from one or several areas in your life (e.g. the day’s working obligations) is balanced by removing it from (or in this case inflicting harm on) another area of your life (your sleep).
Although procrastination is not a new concept, with the rise in electronic gadgets and social media, they have become one of the most common modern methods of procrastination including activities such as binge-watching your favourite series, playing games, online shopping and keeping up with your peer group on social media apps. These electronic-based activities (also known as cyber leisure) can be enjoyed during your free time. It’s when they replace time doing something more important like sleeping that it becomes a destructive activity.
Is it necessarily an online problem? Not always. Some people find an escape in reading fiction until early morning, whilst others take up their creative knitting hobby or watch TV for endless hours.
The term bedtime procrastination was proposed by Dr. Floor Kroese et al. They investigated how procrastination can transfer into other important life domains such as health behaviours (e.g. sleeping, healthy eating, exercise, relaxation time, etc.) and consequently damage your well-being.
Whilst other studies gave emphasis to sleep deprivation being connected to sleep disorders, the psychological phenomenon of bedtime procrastination aimed to highlight that sleep deprivation could “simply” be caused by the act of going to be late. The study reinforced that bedtime procrastination is a problem of emotional self-control (or self-regulation) in common with the general form of procrastination.
By 2020, the term developed the additional revenge theme in East Asia by Daphne K Lee. Revenge bedtime procrastination was given prominence possibly due to the harsh “996 working routine” in China, in which some organisations enforce a 72 hour working week, consisting of 12 hour days (from 9 am to 9 pm), 6 days a week. By vengefully suffering through the night, employees were refusing to sleep early to recover a sense of freedom during their late night hours.
Without having “control” of the working day and recreational time in the evening, going to sleep can seem like “wasting” time. Of course, the act of delaying bedtime offers no obvious long terms benefits to one’s health. If anything, it deepens the feelings of powerlessness and disappointment of one’s lifestyle. Some may see it as a type of compensation, a defence mechanism or an act of resistance to redirect one’s frustrations, inadequacies and possible loneliness from one area of your life into another.
Another feature of revenge bedtime procrastination can be connected to an increasing cultural emphasis on “active leisure”. For those who want to impress others that “life is interesting” and having something to talk about in work the day after, working and sleeping with nothing in-between may be viewed by others as dull and likely to disappoint them.
With little time to engage in something “active” late in the evening, filling it with what’s easily available like online activity may be the only way to impress others and talk about what’s vogue. Sleep can seem like an inconvenience to what’s “hot” or yet another obligation to fulfil on your priority schedule.
The Signs of Revenge Bedtime Procrastination
Bedtime procrastination is a common feature of modern living. In the study by Floor Kroese et al, 74% of those surveyed indicated that they delayed going to bed later than they planned at least one or more days per week without having a good reason.
Just because you are staying up late to complete a work deadline or taking care of your child, does it mean that you are participating in the phenomenon of revenge bedtime procrastination? No, this concept should not be confused with sleeping late when you have good reasons to do so, but the psychology behind it can be subtle.
Revenge bedtime procrastination has distinct behaviours. They include:
You delay – Bedtime procrastinators consistently go to bed later than originally intended. Non-bedtime procrastinators have the intention to delay bedtime to catch up with some work, are planning to sleep in the day after or by chronotype are typical “night owls”.
You lack valid motives – Bedtime procrastinators don’t have a credible reason for staying up late. You find something “trivial” to do that could easily have been done at an earlier time. Non-bedtime procrastinators stay up late for important reasons like caring for someone who is ill or waiting for an urgent call from a family member who has forgotten their front door key.
Is there a difference between a valid reason and an excuse? Yes, the bedtime procrastinator will kid themselves that staying up late was justified to watch the important “hot” series that everyone is talking about or to shop for that urgent sale item.
Awareness – Bedtime procrastinators recognise that actions will have negative consequences in the morning accompanied by feelings of guilt, but yield to the delay nevertheless. Non-bedtime procrastinators are aware of the need to sleep and will be confident of the decision the following morning.
Although a lack of self control is common with general procrastination, there are other notable features of bedtime procrastination that could make it distinct from general procrastination e.g. perfectionism, fear of judgement and task aversion. Some might argue that the issue of perfectionism (common with the general form) doesn’t apply at bedtime. However, the bedtime procrastinator could be trying to perfect the mood of “readiness” to then surrender the control of the delay. Similarly, fear of negative feedback may not apply to the bedtime procrastinator. But the bedtime procrastinator may keep the delay a secret due to the embarrassment of what seems a simple solution and judgement to just “just go to bed earlier!” Furthermore, task aversion (common with the general form) may not apply to the bedtime procrastinator. However, anticipating that you will struggle to have self control and discipline to switch off in the night ahead can convert the night time routine into a dreaded “task” that you “hate” doing.
What causes revenge bedtime procrastination?
People engage in this psychological phenomenon for a variety of pressing causes rather than for radical vice. The primary cause of general procrastination is a lack of self-regulation or self-control.
What makes revenge bedtime procrastination prevalent is the lack of self regulation in your daily routine. The daily actions and activities that you undertake can generate long-term or short-term benefits to your well-being. But, if you lack self-regulation, your intentions and plans won’t match what you end up doing throughout your day.
Instead, you succumb to pleasures, forget or displace your tasks, or delay the important things for later. This results in a disorganised routine and accommodates your pleasures after midnight as a reward. Furthermore, these pleasures may seem even more exciting and rebellious in the moment because you are “stealing” or reclaiming time back from what has been “taken away from you” in another area in your life.
There is some evidence that the self-control mechanisms that procrastinators struggle with are exacerbated at a time when you lack the mental energy to apply the willpower needed to switch off electronic devices. Additionally, whilst tiredness or exhaustion in the evening is a common motivator to go to bed, bedtime procrastinators who are sat in the living room watching TV might be too tired and apathetic to overcome the inertia to leave the sofa and prepare to go to bed.
An alternative view to the lack of self-control explanation of revenge bedtime procrastination is one related to inter-individual difference in biology. One study emphasises that bedtime procrastination can be attributed to those who have the evening “night owl” chronotype as opposed to the early bird or “lark” chronotype.
“Night owls” are forced to accommodate lifestyles or biological clocks that suit “larks”. This creates circadian misalignment stress for the “night owl” who will then attempt to recover time by delaying bedtime to balance this stress. This process can become habit-forming.
Anxiety and the potential to ruminate on your problems is often worse at night when you are trying to settle down to sleep. Unless you are exhausted, many people find this night time phase typifies when those anxieties demand attention. This ultimately contributes to sleep problems and insomnia. When you “can’t sleep”, it’s easy to lie there mulling over your worries. It can be frustrating and wasteful of those precious hours.
When you form these insomnia habits, you begin to anticipate an anxious night ahead and rather than waste time being anxious, it can seem more fruitful to be doing something rather than nothing. Cyber leisure can be the momentary “distracted” alternative to laying there worrying. So instead, you fill the “anxiety window” with activity until over-tiredness and sleep eventually replaces the ability to focus on the next cyber task.
Is this revenge? When you “can’t sleep”, it may not start with the intention to delay bedtime, but it soon develops as a coping strategy to take revenge on anxiety when you persistently struggle to sleep.
Why it develops can be related to “distraction” strategies being the (very limited) solution to anxiety. During the day, you are habitually task-focused. This can serve as a distraction from your anxiety and the belief that you are managing your anxiety effectively. But this “distraction” solution is temporary. When you are doing routine activities or have nothing but your mind to work with at night, anxiety can win and disrupt your sleep.
Who is most affected by this psychological phenomenon?
Anyone can experience revenge bedtime procrastination. The more you dislike the activities in your daytime, the more likely you will struggle to detach from work and attempt to attempt to reclaim the night time with pleasurable activities. Your negative daytime activities can include the type of work that you do, the control you have over that work, the number of hours you work, the additional obligations that you have in your free time etc.
These factors contribute to or take away from the balance of (perceived) “me” time. For example, working in a caring role can be a passionate vocation for some and would lower your need for revenge in the night because you go home feeling fulfilled. For others, it’s a vocational “trap” and increases the need for revenge.
Stress can also create intermittent periods when you seek revenge. Being a student, having a high-pressure job and working shifts can have revengeful periods when demands are high. One study suggests that woman and students are particularly prone to bedtime revenge when under stress.
As previously mentioned, general procrastinators and “night owls” can be prone to this phenomenon. Additionally, those with sleep disorders and generalised anxiety can also divert the frustration of not sleeping into cyber leisure.
Use of blue light emitted from electronic devices when you have not been able to access natural daylight in your day may add an additional factor into sleep deprivation. According to this study, “blue light” activities can further disturb the quality of asleep rather than help it. So even though you believe you are achieving your delay strategy, it is having a deeper negative effect on the quality of your sleep (when are able to fall asleep).
More recently the effect of the Covid global pandemic has further blurred the work-home life distinction and increased revenge bedtime procrastination. It has had a notable effect of reducing women’s leisure time hours and the ability to balance “me” time. It has been noted in another study that nearly 40% of the research sample had sleep problems during the Covid work-from-home mandate increasing the prevalence of this psychological phenomenon.
This suggests that those affected by revenge bedtime procrastination cannot be explained by one factor alone. Who is affected by this psychological phenomenon involves a number of interlinking factors.
How revenge can revenge bedtime procrastination affect your health?
Staying up late once in a while may not have drastic consequences to your health but it can be problematic in the long term. Regardless of your method of distraction (i.e. cyber or non-cyber activities), sleep deprivation will lead to fatigue. It can then affect your work concentration and your work performance in your day ahead. In the long term, sleep deprivation can also cause an increase in stress responsivity, mood disorders and memory loss.
With continuity, these late-night acts of deserved indulgence can seem like normal behaviour in which you lose the motivation for maintaining a sleep pattern. People want to believe that they can cope with minimal sleep, but it inevitably impacts on your irritability, decision-making ability and physical health. Taken to the extreme, the compensation to delay bedtime can become an overcompensation in which you enter a deeper cycle of self hatred.
How can you prevent revenge bedtime procrastination?
If revenge bedtime procrastination has become a bad habit that is affecting you your day-to-day life both mentally and physically, the following tips can help you reconnect with good sleeping habits.
Reappraise how you spend your daytime obligations – How much control do you have over your working life? Are you in the right career? Changing your work situation won’t happen overnight, but finding your passionate vocation in the long term can balance the scales of leading a satisfactory life on one side of the equation and the need to compensate it on the other side when going to bed. Practising gratitude can shift some of the emotional negativity in your work.
Identify some new relaxing activities – If you cannot control your hours of work, review how you spend your leisure time. Do you feel like you have achieved anything when you have spent a few hours on social media? Does reading a good book or having a brisk walk offer a better solution to social media? Schedule some down-time associated with something that you do each evening to anchor the habit and help to separate your work and sleep boundaries. Even better, learn breathing techniques with affirmations or other mindfulness activities to guide or direct your mind into relaxation.
Re-evaluate how you perceive sleep – When an activity has become something to avert, rehearsing a positive meaning can change the experience. Learn self hypnosis to validate sleep as a healthy and beneficial part of your life rather than a chore.
Rehearse a new bedtime routine – Waiting until the moment to change the routine can be too late to be effective as you are swayed by the expectations of habit i.e. repeating what you did last night. Visualising your sleep routine can help you plan your new sleep hygiene rituals. A wind-down routine helps you to trigger your natural sleep cues. Practising breathing techniques can help you to relax in bed.
Give electronic devices their bedtime too – Powering down your devices and turning off auto-play at least half an hour before going to bed will initially feel discomforting. Persist with your new habits and it will empower you to open your mind-space to the new sleep rituals that will revitalise you.
How can hypnotherapy help your revenge bedtime procrastination?
Some ingrained night time habits can be challenging to change when you are dominated by your internal beliefs to fulfil these rituals. When your health is suffering professional help can assist your changes.
Hypnotherapy to break bad habits can help explore and treat your underlying motives, goal-formation strategies, background causes, stress triggers etc. It can help you develop self hypnosis (https://www.clinicalhypnotherapy-cardiff.co.uk/practise-self-hypnosis/) to disconnect your bedtime procrastination and your revenge strategies.