The phrase revenge bedtime procrastination rings strangely, and its meaning is, perhaps, unintuitive. Yet, it has seen lots of attention from the press and the public. What is the phenomenon of bedtime procrastination, and what is it revenge on? We investigate.
It is late at night. Your day’s work — day job duties, homework for your course, house chores — is all done.
You glance at the clock: it is past midnight already. You are all ready for bed and so tired that you could almost pass out.
However, instead of closing your eyes and drifting off to sleep, something else happens. You start reading a book, watching an episode of your favorite show, or adding one more row to that knitting project.
Before you know it, one more page has become five more chapters, you have binge-watched an entire season of that show, or all but finished your knitting project.
By this time, however, it is 3.00 a.m., and you know you have to wake up at 6.00 a.m. You are very tired, and you know you will be sleep-deprived, but you could not help yourself. Why?
If this scenario seems familiar, it is because many people around the world have been increasingly engaging in this form of behavior. This phenomenon has become so widespread that it has earned the moniker: revenge sleep procrastination.
What is revenge bedtime procrastination, why does it happen, and who does it affect? Are there ways to modify this behavior to avoid sleep deprivation? In this Special Feature, we investigate.
The concept of bedtime procrastination first came up in a study paper by Dr. Floor Kroese — a behavioral scientist from Utrecht University in the Netherlands — and colleagues, which appeared in Frontiers in Psychology in 2014.
Dr. Kroese and her collaborators described bedtime procrastination as the act of “going to bed later than intended while no external circumstances are accountable for doing so” — that is, choosing to delay bedtime without a practical reason for this delay.
One study that appeared in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in 2020 focused on adolescents, the most obvious bedtime procrastinators.
This study found that many adolescents put off sleep to watch videos, listen to music, or send text messages. However, the reasons behind this purposeful delay remained unclear, and the study did not address this phenomenon’s occurrence in adults.
Besides, why should bedtime procrastination be an act of revenge? Who or what are bedtime procrastinators taking revenge on?
“Blurring boundaries between work and domestic lives”
Medical News Today spoke to Sara Makin, M.S.Ed., NCC, LPC, founder and CEO of online counseling practice Makin Wellness, and Lee Chambers, M.Sc. M.B.Ps.S., an environmental psychologist and well-being consultant, to find out more about the possible reasons that might drive people to procrastinate on sleep.
Makin told us that “[r]evenge sleep procrastination is still a new concept, so there are still debates regarding the psychology of this.”
“There may be a connection between heightened daytime stress and bedtime procrastination,” she noted.
A study from the Netherlands that appeared in Frontiers in Psychology in 2018 aimed to answer the question as to why people may delay their bedtime on purpose, even when they are tired.
The study authors found that the more a person had to “resist desires” during the rest of their day, the more likely they would be a bedtime procrastinator.
This means that the less enjoyable things a person could do during the day, the likelier it was that they would try to reclaim that time at night and engage in the more pleasurable activities they had not been able to do during the day.
“One of the significant causes of revenge sleep procrastination is where our current working culture intersects with our personal and leisure time expectations in our p.m. bookend,” Chambers told MNT.
It all comes down to trying to reclaim that much-needed “me time,” he explained: “The desire to gain a level of personal freedom drives a desire to stay awake beyond a time that will provide an optimal level of sleep.”
“Factors that contribute [to bedtime procrastination] are working hours, often elevated to 12 hours and beyond, workplace expectations to be available outside of hours, and overtime to be worked. Modern working patterns and technologies are blurring boundaries between work and domestic lives, giving rise to a feeling of living at work. Peer pressure to achieve, self-learn, have valuable hobbies, and practice well-being can all drive behavior that eats into a sleep schedule.”
– Lee Chambers
The “revenge” aspect of bedtime procrastination comes almost as an act of rebellion against ever-increasing demands at work and at home, which leave many of us little time or energy to invest in leisure activities.
The COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing local and national restrictions have made matters worse by blurring the boundaries between home and office, blocking parents’ and caregivers’ access to daycare, schools, and their support networks, and forcing students to study from home.
While anyone can engage in bedtime sleep procrastination, some people may be more likely than others to delay going to bed.
According to Makin, “[i]t appears that women and students are most [likely]” to engage in bedtime procrastination.
This is also the conclusion reached by the authors of a 2019 study in a Polish population. The study indicates that “the chance of severe bedtime procrastination is more than twice as high for females than for males.”
Moreover, they write that “[d]ifferences between the sexes in delaying sleep already appear in schoolchildren.”
Although this study does not explain why women may be more likely to go to bed late, it is possible to make some inferences based on other available information.
An American Psychological Association survey from 2010, for example, noted that women are more likely than men to report that they experience significant stress.
The data revealed that “[w]omen are more likely to report physical and emotional symptoms of stress than men,” including headaches, feeling that they were about to cry, or having an upset stomach.
This may come as no surprise given women’s demonstrable time poverty — the amount of unpaid work they engage in, often as primary caretakers of children and older family members.
When it comes to bedtime procrastination, though, Chambers also notes that there appears to be an age gap, with younger Millenials and Generation Z-ers being more likely to engage in this behavior.
“In my professional experience, this [behavior] presents most often in late Millennials and Gen Z’s in high-pressure positions with ambitious goals and career objectives,” Chambers told MNT.
Why? He explained that “[t]heir behaviors are, in a way, a rebellion against the organizational cultures they are trying to navigate, and they are often aware of just how pivotal sleep is to health and performance.”
Many studies have shown that lack of sufficient, good quality (uninterrupted) sleep is crucial for maintaining both physical and mental health.
Researchers have tied sleep not just to our ability to focus on work and being productive but also to mood regulation, weight gain, cardiovascular health, and inflammation, among others.
“Sleep deprivation, reduced decision-making capacities, and challenges with [cognitive performance] are all potential negative effects of sleep procrastination,” Makin told MNT.
We asked her if bedtime procrastination could have any positive effects:
“The only positive with revenge sleep procrastination is that there’s a false appearance that you have more control over your life. This is very reinforcing and will entice you to continue this behavior, even though the risks outweigh the rewards. There is no genuine positive effect to reducing the quality and time of your sleep. Consistent and good quality sleep is…
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