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What is revenge bedtime procrastination, and why should we stop doing it?

What is revenge bedtime procrastination, and why should we stop doing it?

Having struggled with insomnia for years, I have a deep appreciation for a consistent sleep schedule. I’ll happily be the first to leave a raging social event to ensure I have time to do my skincare routine and start winding down for my much-needed eight-and-a-half hours.

Of course, on rare occasions, I push past my limits and stay up way too late to spend time with loved ones, finish an important project, or binge just one more episode of my latest streaming addiction.

But the science is pretty clear that when this pattern continues over weeks or months, you’re setting yourself up for impaired productivity, poor energy levels, and physical and mental health risks.

Revenge bedtime procrastination is when we delay going to bed and cut into our sleeping hours to relish some alone time once the day’s demands are done.

Perhaps your children are finally asleep, and it’s the first time all day no one has needed your attention. Perhaps you’ve been working ridiculous hours to finish a project and can’t remember the last time you did something for yourself.

Even when we know we need to sleep, it feels unfair that the day is already over, and we’ve barely had any time for recreation or pleasure.

This is where the ‘revenge’ part of revenge bedtime procrastination comes in; we all have an inner rebel who resists rules that impede feeling free and autonomous. Sadly, in the long run, the only person we’re getting revenge on with bedtime procrastination is our future self.

The health risks of sleep debt

One of the worst (or best) things about being an adult is that we become our own caregivers. Most of us no longer have a parental figure scolding us for staying up too late or reminding us that we have food at home when tempted by the drive-through.

Forcing ourselves to go to bed when we’re enjoying an evening to ourselves can feel almost painful. Staying up late feels like a rebellion against too-busy schedules full of chores and deadlines.

Staying up too late and sleeping too little can work over shorter periods to meet a deadline, but over longer stretches, it can wreak havoc on your mental and physical energy and wellbeing.

Sleep is vital for the human body’s healing and repair. It regenerates mental and physical energy stores, processes thoughts, emotions, and hormones, and repairs cells to protect immunity and organs. Unlike the energy we get from food, our bodies can’t ‘store’ extra sleep for future use.

Insufficient sleep is consistently linked with poorer health outcomes. It is a risk factor for serious health conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, poor weight management, depression, dementia, heart attacks, and stroke. Even among otherwise healthy individuals, research consistently finds that not sleeping enough worsens symptoms of anxiety and depression and can spiral into full-blown sleep disorders like insomnia.

Sleep deprivation and sleep disorders are increasing and appear slightly more common among women than men. The rise of sleeplessness is unsurprising, given the rapid pace of modern life and the increasing demands on our time and mental energy.

If continuing to cut into our sleeping hours is not the answer, what is a tired and busy person to do?

What is revenge bedtime procrastination, and why should we stop doing it?

How to stop revenge bedtime procrastination

Rather than trying to scold or shame yourself into getting into bed on time, stopping bedtime procrastination requires curiosity and self-compassion about what is driving this pattern.

Here are some useful steps to help you get enough sleep without suffering from bedtime FOMO:

Find alternative sources of pleasure and relaxation

Rebelling against a rule, even one we set ourselves for our own good, serves some unmet need.

Ask yourself what you get from procrastinating and delaying bedtime – often, the answer will be some variation of fun, frivolity, or pleasure. How can you experience more pleasure and relaxation throughout your day so that you don’t feel so starved of enjoyment that you sacrifice sleep?

Can you sneak in a short walk during the workday? Or a two-minute dance party in your office to your favourite tunes? Can you practice savouring your first sip of delicious tea or coffee, noting the textures and flavours as if you’d never tried it before?

A little conscious time and effort can go a long way in creating small self-care rituals throughout the day. This will help you feel more fulfilled and energised and less resentful about going to bed without doing anything nice for yourself.

Remind yourself of the importance of rest

If going to sleep feels like a ‘waste’ of your precious free time, it might be time to learn about spoon theory.

Spoon theory originates from the chronic illness and disability space, with ‘spoons’ representing the energy required for everyday tasks from bathing to making lunch or answering an email. Some people have fewer spoons to work with than others, and some refuse to acknowledge they are low on spoons until it’s too late and they hit the wall or burn out.

When you ignore your need for rest, you borrow spoons from your future self. Conversely, prioritising rest as an important commitment helps restore your energy to perform at your best in the coming days, weeks, and months.

Reframing the idea of sleep as a boring necessity to a superpower that fuels your lust for life may help bedtime feel like less of a drag.

Romanticise bedtime using transition rituals

Transitioning from working or socialising to winding down for bed takes mental energy and a shift in your nervous system.

Particularly if you work from home, creating a ritual that signifies the end of the work day can help you ease into your leisure time with less stress and sleep-disrupting anxiety.

Similarly, a night-time routine tells your brain that bedtime is approaching, enabling smoother transitions. Start winding down a few hours before you want to be asleep, setting a bedtime alarm if necessary.

Switch overhead lighting for delicious-smelling candles, pop on a face mask, and dive into your favourite book. Brew a caffeine-free herbal tea, and skip the glass of wine. Alcohol may make you feel drowsy, but it actually impairs the quality of your sleep so it’s best to avoid it.

Seek support to unpack bedtime avoidance

If you’ve tried everything and still feel a strong resistance to going to bed on time, speaking to a supportive mental health professional can be incredibly helpful in understanding what is happening for you.

The reasons you avoid bedtime could be more deeply rooted and signify other areas that need attention, or needs that have gone unmet for too long. 

Perhaps your inner rebel is crying out for more freedom; rather than continuing to cut into your sleep, is there somewhere else in your life or your day that you can make space for more autonomy?

If parenting or work worries keep you from wanting to go to bed, are there resources you can find or develop to help ease the load?

Unpacking your bedtime procrastination isn’t about criticising yourself for being naughty and staying up too late. It’s about having the fierce self-compassion to find new paths toward pleasure, enjoyment, and relaxation that add to your quality of life.

A healthy sleep schedule is a way of loving yourself enough to do what will feel best in the long term, even if it initially feels challenging.

Just as we would lovingly guide a child, partner, or pet towards the behaviour that is in their best interest, self-parenting is an opportunity to reconnect with ourselves, starting with ensuring our most basic needs are met; nourishing food, connection, movement, purpose, and deep, restful sleep.

Emma Lennon

Emma Lennon

Emma Lennon is a passionate writer, editor and community development professional. With over ten years’ experience in the disability, health and advocacy sectors, Emma is dedicated to creating work that highlights important social issues.