It's not unusual to think that there aren't enough sleep hours in a day. You may feel this way when you have busy daytime schedules, and often go to bed late in the night. But instead of falling asleep right away, you double up your bedtime as your leisure time. You stay awake watching TV, scrolling through social media, or reading your favorite book. You might even do the same thing almost every day, even though you struggle to stay awake during the day.
If this routine describes your day, you're most likely in what’s referred to as the revenge bedtime procrastination loop. This term is relatively new, although the phenomenon isn't. Here's an explanation of it — and some tips to overcome it.
Sleep experts describe bedtime procrastination as an intentional delaying of sleep by staying up until late night hours, even though no external circumstances prevent such a person from sleeping. The term became popular after a study in 2014 by Dr. Floor Kroese, a behavioral scientist, on new forms of procrastination and their effects on a person's well-being. The study linked bedtime procrastination to poor self-regulation habits, such as failure to complete homework before its due date.
Since then, researchers have been studying the phenomenon to understand why sleepers voluntarily delay sleep, despite being fully aware of the negative consequences of sleep deprivation. For example, one study shows that 88% of adults delay bedtime to binge-watch TV.
Later, a new perspective of bedtime procrastination emerged from China, giving the phenomenon a new name and definition. Revenge bedtime procrastination refers to when a person cuts off sleep at night for leisure time because they barely get any time to themselves during the day due to a busy daytime life.
This new perspective explains that people with a busy daytime life refuse to sleep early at night to engage in activities that provide immediate leisure. For example, most adolescents stay up to play video games, scroll through social media, send text messages, or listen to music. This behavior becomes habitual, and results in sleep deprivation and other problems that affect your overall well-being.
Revenge sleep procrastination has four characteristics:
However, revenge bedtime procrastination isn't a sleep disorder, and can't be clinically diagnosed. Instead, it's a habit developed over time, and associated with busy and stressful daytime schedules. More specifically, it's an impulsive reaction to lacking free time for personal activities.
Sleep experts use many theories to explain why sleepers intentionally postpone their sleep to engage in leisure activities. The common causes include the following:
Some sleepers have a habit of postponing important activities until past their deadlines. As a result, they end up doing those activities off schedule, including during their bedtime.
Some sleepers use their bedtime to engage in leisure activities to ease their minds of the stress accumulated during the day. Although that may help ease stress, reducing sleep time in exchange for personal time for leisure activities results in several other health complications.
Some studies link revenge bedtime procrastination to reduced self-regulation at the end of the day. For example, some sleepers strictly follow their daytime routines, such as not using a phone during work hours. When their self-control drops at the end of the day, they fail to control the urge to scroll through their phones, even if they feel tired and sleepy.
Night owls are people who involuntarily stay up past midnight until early mornings. They are often active at night, and don't feel tired or sleepy, causing them to delay bedtime.
The invention of TV, cellphones, and the internet made entertainment and communication easily accessible. However, these gadgets impact sleep quality, and also delay bedtime.
Adults need about seven to nine hours of sleep every day to maintain good health, and stay active during the day. In contrast, children and adolescents need more sleep than adults in a day to promote growth, brain development, emotional regulation, learning and memory retention, and more.
However, lifestyle behaviors today deprive sleepers of enough hours of sleep and free time, resulting in unhealthy habits, such as revenge bedtime procrastination.
Here are some of the effects of intentional delay of sleep.
Sleep deprivation leads to fatigue, and reduced alertness when you're awake. You'll most likely feel sleepy during the day because of repeatedly having inadequate sleep.
Sleep promotes learning and memory retention in children, adolescents, and young adults. Conversely, insufficient sleep caused by procrastination contributes to slow thinking and poor memory retention.
Lack of sleep may cause stress and anxiety build-up. Such sleepers also become easily irritable during the day because of tiredness, resulting in high stress and anxiety levels.
Sleep is also crucial for energy rejuvenation, and improving daytime productivity. Several studies link low productivity among employees to poor sleep quality and work-related stressors. If you voluntarily postpone your sleep, you may experience low productivity at work, school, or while performing other daytime activities.
Lack of enough sleep due to revenge bedtime procrastination also has long-term consequences to a sleeper. Some of the health issues linked to sleep deprivation include:
There's not enough data to prove that working from home contributes to bedtime procrastination. However, many sleepers fail to separate working hours from free hours while working from home. As a result, they break their boundaries and schedules, eventually distorting their sleep schedule.
With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, many employers and employees started working remotely to reduce the spread of the virus. Around that time, the term revenge bedtime procrastination became popular following a viral tweet by journalist Daphne K Lee. In the tweet, Lee shared the phrase from a Chinese study on how workers who spent 12 hours a day and six times a week at work coped with insufficient free time.
Many sleepers found the phenomenon relatable because of the impact the Covid-19 pandemic had on sleep habits, and the challenges of working from home. For example, some employees would be distracted by their children or pets while they worked, reducing their concentration levels. As a result, they took too long to complete tasks on time, forcing them to work until late.
Sleep scientists suggest creating a balance between work and free time for remotely working employees to reduce the effects of sleep deprivation.
People stay awake during late-night hours for many reasons, but not all qualify as signs of revenge sleep procrastination. You may want to consult a sleep specialist about your sleep loss issues to rule out other health-related causes of sleep deprivation, such as insomnia, depression, stress, and anxiety.
Generally, a healthy sleep hygiene routine significantly eliminates poor sleeping habits, and improves sleepers' well-being. It involves creating a conducive sleep environment, adopting good sleep habits, and following a daily sleep routine.
Here are tips on how to prevent bedtime procrastination habits.
Although daytime naps are healthy, napping for more than 30 minutes affects your sleep pattern, leading to sleep procrastination. To avoid this, keep your nap time to a maximum of 30 minutes a day.
Take a few minutes before your bedtime to practice relaxing routines, such as taking a shower, meditating, doing gentle stretches, or reading a book. Pre-bedtime routines relax your body and mind, making it easier to fall asleep.
Coffee, tobacco, or alcohol are stimulants that speed up messaging between the body and the brain, causing you to feel more alert. As a result, taking beverages and foods containing such stimulants too close to bedtime interrupts your sleep pattern.
Phones, TVs, laptops, and such devices emit blue light that delays the production of the sleep hormone called melatonin. This disrupts the body's 24-hour circadian rhythm by tricking the mind and body into believing it's daytime. As a result, you'll stay awake for longer than you should during your bedtime.
Going to bed and waking up at a specific time every day becomes a healthy habit that reduces the chances of sleep deprivation. In addition, this tip allows you to keep up with your daily schedules, such as going to work or school.
Keep your bedroom free of distractions, such as too much light, noise, and heat. In addition, ensure that your bedroom is clean and inviting to increase your desire for sleep.
Your bedding plays a huge role in the quality of your sleep. Poor quality bedding compromises your comfort, leading to sleep disruption, and reduced desire to go to bed.
Revenge bedtime procrastination can happen to anyone, although this problem is more prevalent among some sleepers than others.
One study shows that women are more likely to postpone their bedtime than men due to various inferred reasons. For example, some nursing mothers don't have free time to themselves because of the overwhelming duties of motherhood, house chores, work, and school. As a result, such women may unintentionally postpone their sleep to create personal space for themselves.
The younger generation also has a higher prevalence of sleep procrastination owing to their lifestyle habits. For instance, some millennials have ambitious goals and career objectives that make them sacrifice sleep and free time. On the other hand, some young people spend too much time doom-scrolling through social media during bedtime. As a result, young people are prone to sleep problems, including sleep procrastination.
Sleep procrastination is also common among sleepers who have difficulty managing stress.
These common questions about revenge bedtime procrastination will give you more insight into this sleep problem.
Revenge bedtime procrastination can't be clinically diagnosed as of yet. It's a relatively new psychological phenomenon that results in sleep deprivation problems. Despite being linked to mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, the phenomenon isn't a sleep disorder or a mental illness.
The psychological explanation behind revenge bedtime procrastination is that people who don't have much control of their daytime activities use bedtime to try and gain back that control. For this reason, revenge procrastination occurs during bedtime.
Some sleepers take a few minutes of their bedtime for activities such as browsing social media. However, if such actions compromise sleep quality and time, it leads to problems linked with sleep-deprived individuals, and other health issues in the long run.
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