It’s that time of year again – back to school! If you are a parent with school-age children, you may be busy packing lunches, helping with homework, chauffeuring your kids to band practice, and baking three dozen cupcakes at the last minute for the school’s bake sale. As a result, you and your family's schedules are FULL, and most of your time is centered around your children. Unfortunately, this means there is little time left over from some quality “me time.”
“Me time” looks different for everyone. It could be reading a magazine, taking a long hot bath or it may be watching your favorite show with a glass of wine. Unfortunately, for many, this time is only received when you stay up after your kids go to sleep.
Many parents cherish the time when their children are asleep because it allows them to get things done and enjoy a bit of peace and quiet. For some, it is so cherished that they trade in sleep for more alone time.
This phenomenon is known as revenge bedtime procrastination, and although it afflicts many parents, it can be adopted by anyone with a busy schedule. Simply put, revenge bedtime procrastination is when a person delays going to bed so they can do the things they didn’t have time for, typically leisure and entertainment. So even though they’d love to rest their head on their buckwheat hulls pillow, they know that by putting sleep off for another or hour to two, they can do something fun.
Though the term revenge bedtime procrastination has been getting more attention recently, it was first introduced back in 2014. An article published in Frontiers in Psychology defined it as “failure to go to bed at the intended time, while no external circumstances prevent a person from doing so.” This definition later evolved when it was used to describe a trend in China where people worked 12-hour days and still chose to stay up later to get some personal time back.
Revenge bedtime procrastination is very prevalent in China, thanks to the ‘996 schedule’. This schedule involves working from 9 am to 9 pm, six days a week. As you can imagine, these employees have very little free time. Emma Rao told BBC she was “deprived of all my personal life” because of such a schedule. At the end of her workday, she had a short window to eat, shower, and go to bed. So, she would have to forgo sleep to do something else like read the news or winddown by watching TV.
Revenge bedtime procrastination isn’t simply a matter of staying up late or not sleeping. There are key differentiators. To be considered revenge bedtime procrastination, it must first decrease the individual's overall sleep time. Second, it must also not be due to other reasons like sleep disturbance, insomnia, or another sleep disorder. Lastly, the person who does this is fully aware that this choice will have negative consequences like feeling tired the following day or increase their chance of sleeping through their alarm.
The activities a person will engage in will vary but are typically centered around leisure. It may involve binge-watching Netflix, scrolling through social media, spending time on a hobby, or even more strenuous activities like going to the gym.
Parents and those who have high-stress jobs are most at risk for revenge bedtime procrastination. A 2019 study found that women are also more likely to engage in this phenomenon. According to a 2020 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, adolescents are also regular bedtime procrastinators. The researchers found that a significant number of adolescents will put off sleep to play video games, watch videos or go online with friends. Additional research has found a connection between how much a person resists desires during the day, their level of stress, and the likelihood of revenge bedtime procrastination.
Often, this behavior starts innocently enough. For example, you may spend 20 minutes watching a YouTube video in bed while laying on your buckwheat hulls pillow. You may do this for a while and then it gradually escalates to watching an episode of your favorite show. It may be in bed at first, but soon you may find yourself laying on the couch until the wee hours, five episodes deep into a new series. This behavioral pattern will significantly affect your sleep-wake cycle. You could soon find your sleep patterns change, and even if you try, you can’t fall asleep at a reasonable time.
Recent research has found that revenge bedtime procrastination has worsened during the pandemic. As more people have been working from home and children were taking part in online learning, they’re alone time was further reduced. Additionally, with no place to go, some weren’t as concerned about feeling sleepy the next day. Researchers believe this spike was triggered by blurred lines between work, home, and school.
The Negative Effects of Revenge Bedtime Procrastination
Engaging in this behavior will have a negative effect on your physical and mental health. Staying up late once and a while won’t have a significant impact, but when this is done consistently, it will adversely affect your sleep schedule and well-being. Repeated late nights and early mornings will do a lot more than make you tired. A consistent lack of sleep can cause the following issues:
- Weakened immune system
- Weight gain (see our blog on how sleepless nights can lead to weight gain here)
- Depression and anxiety
- Increased blood pressure
- Cognitive issues
These issues can make each day more difficult. For example, if you are sleep-deprived, you may struggle at work or not be as productive during the day. As a result, it may take you longer to accomplish your to-do’s or finish work, meaning you get less alone time during the day. The less free time you have, the more you will deprive yourself of sleep. Arianna Huffington once worked herself to exhaustion and is now an outspoken advocate for sleep. She has said that “by sleeping more we, in fact, become more competent and in control of our lives.”
Sleep is necessary for your health. Mathew Walk, author of Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams and neuroscientist, wrote, “the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life span.” There are so many benefits to getting a quality sleep every night. Fortunately, there are ways you can put a stop to a cycle of revenge bedtime procrastination.
Overcoming Revenge Bedtime Procrastination
To start, you need to prioritize sleep. It’s time to romanticize bedtime, so you feel more inclined to spend your alone time cozied up on your buckwheat hulls pillow, cuddling a hot water bottle. You should invest in a quality mattress, pillow, and bedding, so your bed is incredibly inviting. Finally, remind yourself that sleep will make you feel good; it will help you get through the day and accomplish more.
An excellent sleeping environment will aid in sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene involves practicing healthy sleep habits like going to bed at the same time every night, avoiding caffeine and electronics, and establishing a nighttime routine like meditation before going to bed.
Lastly, take an objective look at your schedule and try to cut things out. The root of your revenge bedtime procrastination is your busy, demanding schedule. Remind yourself that sleep must be a priority, and if a lack of free time affects your sleep, you should start prioritizing it. Research has shown again and again that the less resentful you are about how you spend your day, the less likely you are to stay up late.
If you are in the habit of staying up very late every night, it may take some time to get back to a regular bedtime. For example, if you have been regularly staying up until 2 am watching TV, it will be challenging to fall asleep at 10 am. To make the adjustment smoother, you can start adjusting your late-night activities to help prime you for rest. For example, instead of watching TV, try reading with the lights dimmed or doing some slow-flow yoga or meditation. Also, try cutting out electronics that give off blue lights and adversely affect your circadian rhythm.
You can also take supplements or natural sleep aids to help get your sleep-wake cycle back in order. Specific vitamins, magnesium supplements, and natural herbs like lavender can help you feel sleepy.
You need your alone time. It is vital to your mental and physical health, just as much as sleep. That said, it shouldn’t be a matter of one or the other. If your schedule or lifestyle doesn’t allow you to do both, then it is time to make some changes. For example, you may need to ask for more support or re-evaluate your current job. These decisions aren’t easy, but your health and well-being are worth it.