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Revenge bedtime procrastination: What is it and how to improve your sleep hygiene

Revenge bedtime procrastination: What is it and how to improve your sleep hygiene

Get your beauty sleep

Text: Natalie Khoo

Image: Victoria Heath via Unsplash
Image: @3am.in.jupiter via Instagram

Revenge bedtime procrastination is a real problem, but understanding why it happens is the first step to catching up on your beauty sleep—here's how

It’s midnight and I’ve just finished my to-do list for the day. I’m exhausted after only getting five to six hours of sleep the previous night. I know what my body needs is rest, but something tells me I should “reward myself” with me-time after a day’s hard work. And so, I instinctively reach for my Nintendo Switch to “destress” with my latest lockdown hobby/gaming escape: Pokemon Unite (sorry to my villagers on Animal Crossing: New Horizons, I’ll get back to you soon).

The next morning, when I finally (begrudgingly) get out of bed to get ready for another WFH day, my foggy brain reminds me why I really should have gone to sleep earlier last night. But do I heed my own good judgment? No. Instead, repeat more or less of the same thought process every night and you’ll have an idea of my weekly schedule.

Yes, I’m ashamed to admit that I am a victim of revenge bedtime procrastination. With the wealth of articles and studies on this subject (a quick Google Search will prove this), I know I’m far from the only one. If you’re all too familiar with a similar scenario, here’s the psychology behind it and how to stop—for your health’s sake.

What is revenge bedtime procrastination?

According to a 2014 study, bedtime procrastination is described as “failing to go to bed at the intended time, while no external circumstances prevent a person from doing so”. The Sleep Foundation provides three factors for a late sleeping schedule to be considered bedtime procrastination:

  • A delay in going to sleep that reduces one’s total sleep time
  • The absence of a valid reason for staying up later than intended, such as an external event or an underlying illness
  • An awareness that delaying one’s bedtime could lead to negative consequences

The third factor accounts for the “revenge” aspect of it, as those who engage in bedtime procrastination are typically perceptive of their poor sleeping habits (yours truly included). The English term “revenge bedtime procrastination” is a translation of a Chinese expression “bàofùxìng áoyè” that reflects a deliberate decision to sacrifice sleep for leisure time to make up for a schedule that lacks free time during the day.

Why do people procrastinate bedtime at their own expense?

You’re probably well-aware that you should be getting between seven to eight hours of sleep a day. Besides, chronic sleep deprivation has long been touted to lead to a range of physical, mental, and emotional issues. Among them include fatigue, high blood pressure, weakened immunity, irritability, depression, and anxiety. It is also linked to a degradation in thinking, memory, and decision-making.

In his book Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, neuroscientist Matthew Walker words it bluntly: “The shorter your sleep, the shorter your life span.” Why then do we still procrastinate bedtime as a form of “revenge” at the expense of our health? Psychology has provided several reasons so far.

For one, the pandemic has imposed not just the WFH concept, but a do-everything-from-home culture including eating, working out, and schooling (for parents with young kids). “The boundaries between work and home life are blurred right now, and work responsibilities have grown and taken the space that used to exist for commutes, lunch breaks, and moments for co-worker connections,” clinical psychologist Sabrina Romanoff told Health. “Without this buffer, life would consist of work and sleep.”

Because of this, we feel the need to take back a part of our day for self-indulgence—whether it’s mindlessly scrolling on Instagram or rewatching Friends for the hundredth time.

Another study suggests that a long working day depletes our ability to exercise self-control when bedtime comes around. “People might not be able or willing to expend the self-regulatory resources needed to get oneself to bed, especially if they already expended substantial resources resisting desires throughout the day,” the paper stated, citing desires such as walking out of a boring meeting or watching YouTube clips instead of working on a finance report.

On the other hand, some have argued that revenge bedtime procrastination is a result of late chronotypes—or better known as “night owls”—trying to adapt to schedules designed for “early birds”. In this view, sacrificing sleep is explained as an attempt to find recovery in response to stress.

How can you prevent revenge bedtime procrastination?

Whatever your reason (I personally relate to all three at varying degrees and on different occasions), there are ways to avoid it. I’ve gathered some recommendations from sleep experts to start practising good bedtime habits:

  • Set a proper sleep schedule

For starters, Sleep Foundation recommends setting a consistent bedtime and wake-up time, including on work days and off-days. Yes, that means setting *daily* alarms. You might be thinking: “Everything else is already premeditated, the last thing I want is to lock-in my sleeping hours, especially on the weekends.”

Trust me, I get it—setting a strict schedule feels like I’m depriving myself of that new Netflix series or game time. Not to mention, the fear of missing out (FOMO) is real. However, the trick is to focus on long-term benefits instead of instant gratification. I find it helpful to think of it as giving myself extra me-time—albeit delayed—if I can be more productive at work the next day from having a well-rested night.

  • Develop a bedtime routine

Sleep physician Abhinav Singh suggests treating sleep as a process, akin to a flight (side note: haven’t had one of those in a while). “When your flight has a 10 pm departure, you don’t get to the airport at 10, you’re there at 9 pm or 9:30,” he offers.

This may look different for everyone, depending on what slows down your mind and body for bed. Maybe it’s your evening skincare routine, meditation, prayer (if you’re religious), or writing in your journal—as long as it helps you welcome sleep, rather than forcing it.

  • Take breaks throughout the day

If you find yourself more tempted to reward yourself or “take revenge” for not having leisure time throughout the day, make it a point to schedule in breaks/buffers. Whether it’s that one-hour lunch, a 15-minute stretch every other hour, a coffee/tea break, or giving your cat some attention at *acceptable* intervals, do it. Don’t feel guilty about it—you probably do some version of it on a pre-Covid workday without realising anyway. If necessary, set alarms for this and stick to them. This will help mitigate the lack of self-control come bedtime and possibly even help with productivity.

  • Consistency is key

Overcoming revenge bedtime procrastination doesn’t happen overnight. Give yourself time to foster the habits above and keep at them consistently. Remember: your health will thank you for it. Best of luck to us!

[MORE TIPS: How to sleep better while working from home]

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