It feels good, but is it good for you?
Have you heard of revenge bedtime procrastination? How about bedtime procrastination in general? Even if you’re not familiar with the terms, you might’ve developed one of these sleep habits. Maybe, after an intense day of working, parenting, and doing household chores, you notice that the day is almost over. Perhaps you sit down on your couch at 9 p.m., and even though it’s time to transition into your bedtime routine, you stay up until all hours of the night, falling down various internet rabbit holes or otherwise soaking up that extra time to yourself. Yes, you know you’ll pay for it in the morning, but that’s not the problem you’re worried about right now. It turns out this habit has a name.
Revenge bedtime procrastination is a relatively recent term that has gained traction on social media, but regular old bedtime procrastination has been around. “This is not a new concept,” Rajkumar Dasgupta, M.D., assistant professor of clinical medicine and the associate program director of the Sleep Medicine Fellowship at Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, tells SELF. “Many people have procrastinated at bedtime for a while.”
Your late-night habit must include three components to be considered bedtime procrastination, according to a 2020 exploratory study on the subject published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Your late nights have to reduce your total sleep time, you can’t be up late for an external reason (like to tend to a baby or because you’re not feeling well), and you have to be aware that staying up will lead to negative consequences. So if you’re up watching mindless television and you know you should go to bed because you need to be up in four hours, you’re a bedtime procrastinator.
What makes revenge bedtime procrastination so unique? It’s not so much the execution but the feelings behind it. The “revenge” part comes in if you’re staying up out of frustration because work and other responsibilities have encroached on your time. “Folks are more likely to engage in revenge bedtime procrastination if they perceive themselves to have little regulation over their leisure time,” Sabrina Romanoff, Psy.D., clinical psychologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, tells SELF. “This is especially applicable during the pandemic because the border between work and home life is distorted, so work responsibilities tend to bleed into home life, and schedules become less binding.”
Is revenge bedtime procrastination terrible?
There’s nothing wrong with needing a little me time at the end of the day, but the danger is that your evening self is stealing from your morning self, Dr. Dasgupta explains. “I have zero problems with people wanting to take some of their lives back,” he says, but he adds that doing so at the expense of your sleep isn’t ideal.
Here’s the thing: Bedtime procrastination impacts your overall sleep time. The average adult needs seven or more hours of sleep each night, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So when you stay up watching that extra hour of your favorite Netflix show, you add to something called sleep debt—the difference between the amount of sleep you should be getting and the amount you get. As your sleep debt increases, your sleep deprivation does too. Sleep deprivation can mess with your cognitive functioning (think irritability, dozing off at work, or getting into a car accident), and chronic sleep deprivation can increase your risk of conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and depression, the CDC explains.
“Nothing good happens to any part of your body or brain when you’re sleep-deprived, both acutely and chronically,” Dr. Dasgupta explains. “So that’s what we worry about when people are doing this revenge bedtime procrastination.”
What can you do about bedtime procrastination and revenge bedtime procrastination?
If reading this makes you roll your eyes and you’re already planning your 3 a.m. snack, we get it. Finding time to yourself is difficult, and the last year has broken a lot of our boundaries. Sometimes you have to seek vengeance through your bedtime until you can figure out something more sustainable—no judgment. But if you want to change your revenge habits or bedtime procrastination in general, there are a few things you can do:
1. If you’re still working from home, create a commute.
The name of the game is to establish boundaries so that you won’t need to reclaim your time after midnight. Dr. Romanoff suggests you start your day with a commute activity—even if it’s just a walk around the block. “It will recalibrate your mind and prepare you for the workday,” she explains. Do this at the end of the day too: “Shut down your computer and head out the door for a walk. Don’t turn on the TV,” she says. “This will help you unwind from the day and assist with the transition from work to living space.”
2. Recognize that you can’t accomplish everything in a day.
Your procrastination habits likely stem from trying to cram all of your responsibilities into 24 hours. By the time you’ve done everything you possibly can, it’s often late in the evening and you’re wired. Editing your to-do list as much as possible can increase the chances of not needing to unwind for hours at 11 p.m. When in doubt, try to remember that you can’t do it all in one day.
3. Find nourishing nighttime activities.
If you absolutely must keep your procrastination hours, then consider making them as restful as possible. Try swapping Netflix for a book or subbing a glass of wine for something that doesn’t impact your sleep (alcohol might help you doze off, but it can disrupt your REM sleep and leave you tired in the morning, SELF has previously reported). If the goal is to use this time to relax and unwind, Dr. Dasgupta says, make sure it’s an activity that healthily and constructively checks those boxes.
4. Set a bedtime alarm.
If time gets away from you each night before you notice it’s 2 in the morning, try setting an alarm clock. Just as your alarm clock tells you when it’s time to wake up, a gentle chime (or obnoxious siren) can tell you it’s time to get ready for bed. Yes, bedtime procrastination (and its cousin revenge bedtime procrastination) implies that you know you’re up too late, but a reminder might help encourage you a little.
5. Give yourself a chance to fall asleep before you reach for your phone.
While Dr. Dasgupta doesn’t want you staring at the clock waiting for sleep, he does recommend giving yourself some time to drift off. But here’s the kicker: If, after 15 to 20 minutes, you don’t find yourself getting sleepier, don’t reach for your phone or turn on the TV in bed. Instead, Dr. Dasgupta suggests getting up and moving into a different room until you feel more tired. “Just staying in bed awake is not the way to go,” he explains. “Leave the bed and do things that are non-stimulating in dim light.” Then (after an activity like reading, some gentle stretches, or your favorite meditation app), head back to bed and try again.
6. Consider talking to a therapist.
Even though bedtime procrastination and revenge bedtime procrastination aren’t forms of insomnia, sleep deprivation can have some pretty harmful effects. So Dr. Romanoff suggests exploring cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia. “The goal of CBT for insomnia is to identify and alter beliefs that affect your ability to sleep,” she explains. “You will work to manage or explore alternatives to the negative thinking and anxiety relevant to revenge bedtime procrastination.” A therapist might help you understand why you’re procrastinating, and they can suggest habits that can encourage sleep.
Ultimately, revenge bedtime procrastination (or bedtime procrastination in general) isn’t the best for your overall well-being, but the last year hasn’t been great for well-being either. As you try to figure out what works best for you, don’t shame yourself for seeking revenge. Even though the downsides might outweigh the reward, “the autonomy to spend time in a way that folks know is ‘not good for them’ has a rebellious component,” Dr. Romanoff says. Often, staying up a little later to hang out and do nothing can feel as though you’re exerting a little control over your life, which is helpful when you’re anxious or feeling uncertain. Just try to remember, as you rage against responsibility, sleep is actually your friend.
Original article appeared on SELF | Author Patia Braithwaite