Revenge Bedtime Procrastination — And Why You Might Be Doing It

by Colleen Dilthey Thomas
Dmitry Marchenko/EyeEm/Getty

How many times have you come home from work, made dinner, taken care of homework and baths and bedtime routines and been completely exhausted, but instead of falling into bed in a heap, you grab your phone at start to scroll? It’s 10:00 p.m. and you know you are going to pay for it in the morning, but you just can’t seem to stop yourself.

Spending that “me time” at night watching hours of TikTok videos or reading a great book has turned into a bad habit called “revenge bedtime procrastination.” Say what?

It’s simple enough to fall into the bedtime procrastination trap, and you’ve probably been doing it for years. Instead of hitting the pillow when you are tired, you make a conscious decision to stay up. To be true revenge bedtime procrastination, your behavior must fit three criteria, according to a 2020 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. First, you must reduce your total sleep time. Next, it can’t be because you are nursing a baby or sick to your stomach — no external reasons. And finally, you have to know you’re staying up late and that you’ll pay for it in the morning.

“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, told SELF. “Many people have procrastinated at bedtime for a while.”

So what makes up the revenge part? Why isn’t it just normal bedtime procrastination? If you feel like you have lost out on your me-time because of your job or a messy house, you stay up out of frustration and to get back at those things that have taken 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, told 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.”

If you are seeking revenge on that which steals your time and decide to stay up for just an hour more to scroll Facebook, you are hurting yourself in the long run. You are causing yourself to be sleep deprived. And you probably already know what that leads to — things like brain fog and crankiness. But it also can damage your cognitive function to the point that you could have something more serious happen like not paying attention to your driving and having an accident. Long term, it can hurt your health and bring on things like diabetes and depression. It’s not great stuff.

So if you want to break the habit of revenge bedtime procrastination, what should you do? SELF has a few tips.

Change Up Your Work From Home End Of The Day Routine

Instead of just shutting down your computer and turning on the news, create a type of commute for yourself. Walk out the door and breathe in some fresh air. Create a boundary between your work and living space so that the two don’t automatically meld into one.

Give Yourself A Break — Some Things Can Wait Until The Next Day

For some of us, it is really tough to leave that to-do list with any to-dos. But sometimes, you just have to. If you are the type of person who gets it all done in a day, but sacrifices the entire evening to do it, then stays up until 1am because you need that wind down time, you are exhibiting some definite bedtime procrastination. Leave some things to be done tomorrow and get to bed earlier. You will be refreshed for the day and ready to face new challenges.

Try To Make Your Evenings More Low Key

For those of us who need those extra hours, make them more relaxing. Don’t drink Diet Coke and eat M&Ms while you watch Netflix; those types of things can make you more wired. Maybe read a good book with a cup of tea. Take a warm bath and center yourself. Make sure that you are getting yourself into a more relaxed mode so that when you fall asleep, it’s quality sleep.

Make Yourself Go To Bed

This can be tough, but set an alarm and stick to it. Remember, this is conscious; you know that you are up too late. A gentle buzz on the wrist from your Apple Watch is a nice reminder that it’s time to get some zzz’s or you will hate yourself in the morning.

Don’t Turn On The Blue Lights If You Can’t Fall Asleep

Dasgupta recommends that you give yourself a while, 15 to 20 minutes, to fall asleep. If you can’t get there in that amount of time, resist the urge to grab your phone or turn on the TV. Instead, move to a different room and try to re-center yourself. Lying in bed watching the clock doesn’t help. Try some relaxing stretches or mediation and try again.

If You Can’t Do It On Your Own, Talk To A Professional

Revenge bedtime procrastination isn’t insomnia, but again, it is depriving you of much needed sleep. It may take the help of an expert to learn how to retrain your brain to get you to get calm and ready for sleep at night. Romanoff recommends cognitive behavioral therapy to help. “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.”

Only you can decide how you want to work your nighttime routine. You have to remember, though, that sleep is key. If you are participating in revenge bedtime procrastination behaviors, you could be hurting yourself in the long run. Every once in a while it’s okay to seek revenge on your boss who treated you badly with a binge on Netflix. Just try not to make it a nightly thing. A well-rested body is a happy and productive body. And in our crazy world right now, we need both.