Bedtime Procrastination: Why we postpone sleeping

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Revenge bedtime procrastination is a common phenomenon by which people unnecessarily delay going to bed, choosing instead to do activities that they may not have time to enjoy during the day, or they simply choose to pass the time doing anything but going to sleep.

It’s late at night, you’re lounging in your living room watching your favorite series and at some point the thought that you should go to bed crosses your mind…and then you don’t.  It might seem like a good idea at the time to watch another episode or scroll on your phone for a few more minutes, but you know that you’ll pay for it dearly the next day, as you go about your daily tasks sleep-deprived and tired. So why do you still postpone going to bed? Why do we all still do it, even though we know that it’s really bad for us?

In this article we will explore when late bedtimes become problematic, the role that revenge plays in bedtime procrastination, potential reasons, common sufferers and the negative effects of bedtime procrastination, as well as ways to help you deal with it.

1. Signs of problematic bedtime procrastination

Not everyone who goes to bed late has a problem with bedtime procrastination. If the following factors are true, however, sleeping late may be more severe and steer into bedtime procrastination:

  • Going to bed late results in less sleep time (i.e. you go to bed late but get up early the next day, without having gotten the necessary amount of sleep).
  • The postponement of bedtime tends to happen without a specific reason that prevents sleep, for example an illness or a noisy environment.
  • The person in question is fully aware that a late bedtime will have a negative effect on them.

Bedtime procrastination can take a couple of forms. The form most easily recognizable is the one by which you don’t go to bed at a reasonable hour in order to play games, watch TV programs or otherwise engage in enjoyable activities that you don’t get to do during the day. The second form of bedtime procrastination involves going to bed at an hour that makes sense for your schedule, but don’t go to sleep just yet. This type is also known as while-in-bed procrastination and it has become more prevalent in recent years, as mobile devices have become ubiquitous.

2. Why is the word “revenge” included?

The word “revenge” in correlation with the concept of bedtime procrastination was popularized on social media in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. It derives from the translation of a Chinese phrase, traditionally used to describe the act of staying up until late after a very long workday to get some time to yourself. Because workdays in China are typically quite long, the solution for people to do stuff they enjoy is by cutting down on sleep and using that time for enjoyable activities.

This is where the revenge comes in. A long workday means little personal time and little control over your life. By delaying sleep, you get the sense that you are seizing control and “taking revenge” for those hours in the day when someone else “owns” you.

Even though this sentiment first emerged in China, people all over the world have identified with it and found that it resonates with their own experience as well.

3. Reasons behind bedtime procrastination

There are various theories about the reasons behind revenge bedtime procrastination, as it is a fairly new concept.

One of the most prevalent theories is that bedtime procrastination is due to lack of self-control – you opt for instant gratification (e.g. playing video games), rather than the “wise decision” that will benefit you in the longer term (i.e. sleep so that you don’t suffer the following day). However, as we have seen in the previous section, lack of self-control may not be the answer. It’s possible that the attempt to control external factors (like a hectic schedule or a stressful event) may have quite a bit to do with it.

Another prevalent theory is that people who engage in bedtime procrastination are simply night owls who have trouble adjusting to a the schedule of a world which is largely constructed for early birds.

Whichever it may be, habitual bedtime procrastinators typically want to get enough sleep, but eventually fail to do so.

4. Common sufferers from bedtime procrastination

Although more research is needed in order to fully understand who is most affected, preliminary findings suggest that some particular groups are more likely to suffer from bedtime procrastination.

Firstly, it appears that there is correlation between revenge bedtime procrastination and stress during the day. People who have a hectic workday with long hours will tend to sacrifice sleep for some downtime to relax.

Additionally, people with an evening chronotype (or night-owls) appear to be amongst those who more commonly postpone sleep habitually, a habit which may turn into bedtime procrastination. Also women and students appear to be more affected by sleep procrastination, as well as people who tend to procrastinate in other areas of their lives.

5. Effects of bedtime procrastination

Bedtime procrastination is associated with a number of negative effects:

  • Sleep deprivation: When we aren’t sleeping enough, both our body and our mind suffer. We spend the next day feeling fatigued, sleepy and less sharp.
  • Mood fluctuations: Sleep deprivation can make us feel more irritable and cause mood swings.
  • Less productivity: Lack of sleep can make it harder to focus on tasks.
  • Poor performance: In settings such as work or school, sleep deprivation can be particularly damaging as it makes it harder for us to remember things, perform tasks or learn new stuff.
  • Increased levels of stress: Sleep deprivation causes the body to produce higher levels of the hormone cortisol, which is linked to feelings of stress and anxiety.
  • Physical effects: Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to obesity, heart disease and more health issues.
  • Harmful behavior reinforcement: A chronic lack of sleep can result in reduced self-control. This is particularly damaging because, among other things, it can result in repeating the behavior of bedtime procrastination, leading to a vicious cycle.

Overall, habitual revenge bedtime procrastination results in a variety of negative effects for our wellbeing and reinforces harmful behaviors.

6. Ways to deal with bedtime procrastination

So how do we counteract the negative effects of bedtime procrastination?

Bedtime Procrastination: Why we postpone sleeping - woman sleeping
Photo By Ivan Oboleninov

Simply put, by paying attention to your sleep health. This can mean a number of different things to different people, but boiled down to its essence it means to build a bedtime routine and form habits that work for you and help you make good choices around sleep. For example, some common healthy bedtime habits include:

  • Going to bed around the same time every night, even when you don’t have to get up early the next day.
  • Minding your diet, for example having a light meal or avoiding caffeine after a certain time in the day.
  • Avoiding exposure to blue light for some time before sleep.
  • Set an alarm at a specific time every night to let you know it’s time to start getting ready for bed.

Building any healthy habit takes effort and time, but the more you do it, the easier it gets. As mentioned in the previous section, it’s not easy to practice self-control running on a sleep-deprived brain, but it is possible to make some changes to help your brain make the right decision.

You can start by trying relaxation techniques, such as meditation or stretching for a few minutes, and slowly build them into your bedtime routine. Another good way to nudge yourself in the right direction is to make your bedroom environment more relaxing by opting for warmer light and removing sources of noise or blue light (e.g. a TV).

7. Conclusion

Sleep is an essential part of a healthy and balanced life. Playing a major role in our wellbeing. In today’s stress-filled world, it’s easy to fall into the habit of sacrificing sleep for entertainment or personal enjoyment, even though the negative effects on our health are tremendous, both short-term and long term. Thankfully, there are easy techniques and tips for better sleep that you can start with today to help you on your way to start creating healthy sleep habits.

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