Is Revenge Bedtime Procrastination Sabotaging Your Sleep?

What time did you go to bed last night? Wow, that’s late! And what were you doing up so late? If you’re like a lot of people, you might struggle to answer that question, or your answer might be, “not much,” or at least not anything you needed to be doing at 2 am. Maybe you were scrolling through social media, reading, binge watching your favorite show, or any number of things that are more enjoyable than the work, chores, and childcare you were engaged in all day. 

Now, don’t get us wrong, we’re all for “me time,” but if it comes at the expense of your much-needed sleep, it can actually start to seriously affect your mental and physical health. 

So if you know it’s not good for you, and that you should be all tucked into bed at a reasonable hour instead of firing up the online shopping apps at 1 am, the question becomes not what were you doing last night, but why were you doing it? You might be engaging in what’s become known as “revenge bedtime procrastination,” and you’re not alone. 

Revenge Is a Dish Best Served…Sleepy?

young man sitting in the dark staring at his phone
Many adults engage in bedtime procrastination as a  form of “me time” after a long day of work and responsibilities.

So what can revenge and sleep possibly have to do with each other? Who or what are you taking revenge on with your bedtime? Well, ultimately, you’re only hurting yourself, but the term itself refers to taking “revenge” on the hectic daytime schedule that keeps you from doing the things you’d rather be doing. 

The “procrastination” part of the phrase is nothing new to those who study sleep (“bedtime procrastination” first came up in a journal article in 2014), but the addition of the “revenge” concept is. This idea reportedly comes from China, where some workers’ notorious “996” schedule of working from 9 am – 9 pm, 6 days a week prompted people on social media to begin using the Chinese expression, “bàofùxìng áoyè,” which roughly translates to “retaliatory staying up late,” or, as we have begun to call it, revenge sleep procrastination. Journalist Daphne K. Lee popularized the term, when she described it on Twitter as when “people who don’t have much control over their daytime life refuse to sleep early in order to regain some sense of freedom during late-night hours.”

In other words, as Lee Chambers, M.Sc. M.B.Ps.S., an environmental psychologist and well-being consultant, puts it: “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. 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.”

So what’s causing people to engage in this behavior is not just simple lack of time during the day (I mean, we would all need at least 27 hours a day to get everything done, right?), it’s also the stress of not having a moment to ourselves, and the difficulty of finding time to detach from our work or parenting. For example, if you’re coming home from work at 8, eating, showering, and then getting ready to start the cycle all over again, or if you’re looking after another human all day, and are almost never “off duty” until late into the evening, you’re not getting any time to do anything for you – or any mental space. As Ciara Kelly, a lecturer in work psychology at Sheffield University’s Management School, explains, we all need time to mentally distance ourselves from our days: “People are stuck in a Catch-22. When they don’t have time to detach from their work before they go to sleep, it is likely to negatively affect their sleep.”

When Is It Revenge Sleep Procrastination?

Just staying up late sometimes doesn’t necessarily mean you’re engaging in revenge sleep procrastination. While this is a very new field of study, researchers who are looking at it suggest that the following three criteria need to be met for it to be more than just a few late nights:

  • The delay in going to sleep means you’re sleeping less overall (in other words, you’re going to bed much later, but still need to get up at the same time in the morning)
  • There is no “valid” reason for going to bed so late, like an illness or an external event
  • You know that delaying your bedtime will lead to negative consequences, but you do it anyway

The thing is, research suggests that those who engage in this behavior actually want to get more sleep, they are just failing to do so, otherwise known as an intention-behavior gap; they also know that it’s bad for them, but they can’t help it. So who’s doing it? And are you at risk, or already engaging in this behavior?

Who Is Most Likely to Do It?

Anyone can pick up this habit, but the small amount of research that’s been done on revenge bedtime procrastination does give us some insight into who’s most likely to do it. For example: illustration of a woman sitting in bed with headphones on while looking at her phone

  • Research suggests that women and students are most likely to engage in revenge bedtime procrastination; in fact, a Polish study indicates that “the chance of severe bedtime procrastination is more than twice as high for females than for males.” This might be because other studies have shown that women experience more stress than men, but if you’re a busy mom with a mountain of extra unpaid labor on your plate, you probably have a very good idea of why women are more likely to try to reclaim time for themselves late at night, no matter how unhealthy it might be!
  • A study from the Netherlands found that the more a person had to “resist desires” during the rest of their day, the more likely they were to be a bedtime procrastinator.
  • Millennials and Gen-Zers, especially those with high-pressure jobs, or big ambitions, are also very likely to put off sleep. 
  • People who tend to procrastinate in general may be more likely to engage in revenge bedtime procrastination.
  • Those who identify as “night owls,” or evening chronotypes, might have difficulty shutting themselves off at a reasonable hour, even if they have to get up early in the morning.

The Effects of Sleep Deprivation 

While it can be hard to give up that feeling of control over your time and freedom that sleep procrastination gives you, it’s important to recognize how bad it actually is for you. Lack of sleep night after night will lead to sleep deprivation, which in the short-term can cause issues like:

  • Decreased attention span
  • Impaired memory
  • Faulty decision making
  • Increased risk while driving
  • Stress, anxiety, and irritability
  • Weight gain

In the longer-term, sleep deprivation can raise your chances of some pretty serious health problems, like:blood pressure cuff wrapped around medication

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Weakened immune system
  • Hormonal issues
  • Chronic pain
  • Mental health issues like depression and anxiety

All of the above should hopefully convince you to hit the hay at a more reasonable hour; if you’re feeling skeptical that you’ll be able to change your ways, there are some strategies you can try to get you started on a healthier path.

What You Can Do

First of all, if you’re feeling sleep deprived, don’t stress about it – as we’ve seen, stress is one of the number one enemies of sleep! According to therapist Karl Rollinson, “the number one thing is to accept it and not fight it. Acknowledge that it won’t last forever and try not to stress about it. Like any problem in life, it needs to be managed. This means factoring in more time to complete tasks, appointments, and engagements.”

So what can you do? In the short-term, if you’ve had a late night and are feeling rough around the edges, get your body moving throughout the day – taking a walk in the fresh air can work wonders. In the longer-term, though, you’ll have to work on finding ways to carve out mental space for yourself, so try strategies like these to handle daily responsibilities without losing yourself in the process:

  • Pencil in down time – It might sound silly to schedule in rest, but think of self-care like any other important appointment, and put it on your calendar so it actually gets done!
  • Start small – If you’re worried about falling behind on your daily tasks, give yourself small 10-15 minute chunks throughout the day to decompress, which will make you more productive in the long run.
  • Include things that are important to you – When you take breaks, use them to do things that really feel good to you, or lift you up, like contacting a loved one or getting out in open book with the words "my journal" written in it and a pen laying on the page.
  • Write it out – If you’re having trouble settling to go to sleep, try journaling: A study from 2017 found that jotting down the thoughts, feelings, and experiences that stood out throughout the day can effectively reduce both mental and physical symptoms of anxiety. As Karl Rollinson suggests,  “If you still can’t get to sleep because of an active mind, then get up and write down all your worries and anxieties. I call this downloading. You are effectively giving your thoughts physical form and organizing them — tidying up the mess in the attic, so to speak.”

And don’t forget, while you’re practicing some self-care, to also practice good sleep hygiene:

  • Remove all screens from the bedroom, and stop screen time at least an hour before bed
  • Keep the place where you sleep cool and airy
  • Stick to a regular bedtime and wake-up time
  • Avoid caffeinated beverages after the morning
  • Skip big late-night meals
  • Have a relaxing bedtime routine, including a warm bath or shower

Ultimately, we all need some distance from our daily responsibilities and space to mentally detach, as well as to have time to do things that are meaningful to us- but the best time to fit that in is not after midnight! If you are engaging in revenge bedtime procrastination, and you’re not getting the sleep you need, you’ll only end up in a vicious cycle of exhaustion, stress, and lack of productivity. So set boundaries with work and daily responsibilities, carve out meaningful time for yourself – and get yourself to bed!

Fitness Goals vs. Nutrition

America is currently in a love/hate relationship with food and our fitness goals. There is a tremendous amount of apps out there in regards to weight control. With the volume of nutrition programs, diet books, and health ads, we seem to be in a war with how to handle our bodies. Worse yet, we have an obesity epidemic. NCBI says, “The latest estimates are that approximately 34% of adults and 15–20% of children and adolescents in the U.S. are obese.” That’s over a third of people.

What can we do? Science tells us food is the key to losing weight, gaining weight, or maintaining. What we eat (and when) are paramount to fitness. Of course, exercise is a major part of a balanced lifestyle. (On this note, try adding this to your workout.)  However, with certain fitness goals, you need to eat certain things.

What to Eat to Lose Weight 

There are so many diets available and each person needs to tailor their own weight loss plan. No two bodies are exactly alike.  One of my friends can eat Oreos by the sleeve and still has trouble keeping weight on, while another watches her diet, exercises, and continues to struggle. Your fitness goals don’t have to be a huge battle.

Studies tell us the surest path is just a numbers game. While it’s not fun, the best way to think about it is the food pyramid. It’s the one you’re probably familiar with from earlier nutrition classes.

food pyramid for your fitness goals
The food pyramid! Does this look familiar? It’s got the recommended allowance of food intake for maximum nutrition.

Just cut out the top and bottom, focusing on the center portion. This leaves you with a large portion of your nutrition focused in leafy greens, healthy meats, and dairy products. With these, be sure to choose whole foods because ones may contain inflammatory additives that, while delicious, may affect your health. A great diet for this if you need an idea is a Mediterranean diet. Another option is to be aware of your eating times; fasting has been studied more in recent years and has shown great results.

Sugars and starches are the main cause of inflammation, weight retention, and other health problems. Humans evolved for a specific diet, and recent years have provided a cornucopia of delicious, cheap, sugary-starch foods that have taken us away from what our bodies naturally need. Our bodies were just not made to handle that, and we haven’t caught up physically for this fierce influx of food that’s just not good for us in gargantuan amounts. In this case, fat is not the enemy; sugar is.

Focus: Whole foods, leafy greens, healthy portions of meat. Less oil, no sugars, no starches. Also, make sure to track your progression with body fat.

What to Eat to Gain Weight

If you’re on the opposite end and are working to gain weight, you may have an easier time with this. You’ll still have to follow some rules so that you’re putting on healthy weight instead of empty pounds. Start a food journal and set goals with what you’re consuming.

measuring food for losing weight
It doesn’t have to be a fight with food. Just be mindful of what works and what doesn’t.

The best way is by putting on muscle, lean or otherwise. The solid rules are to eat more small meals throughout the day and watch your alcohol intake. Your nutrition and fitness goals are more important than a quick buzz. Your friends will understand.

You can involve more of the food pyramid with gaining weight, eating from the entire selection. Of course, sugars and starches may be involved, but take care not to overindulge. Choose many high fat and protein foods like nuts or milk. Also, fill up with whole grains like oatmeal, or use rice. Smoothies/shakes can be helpful as well. Here’s a great resource for recipes and tips for those wanting to be healthier.

Focus: Use healthy protein shakes, dairy, nuts, and involve a good balance of the entire food pyramid. Find your body weight to grams of protein ratio. 

What to Eat to Maintain Weight

This diet is more of a lifestyle, and it includes elements of the first two. Reaching your goal weight is a short term path, but to maintain it, you must think long term.

fresh nutritious food for weight management
Your best bet is to stick with vegetables. Learn to eat a variety of beautiful, natural colors.

 Like the “losing weight” section, you must reduce sugars and starches in your diet, but you don’t have to eliminate them. When losing weight, that’s the goal, but if you’re maintaining, it’s fine to include them. The same goes for the “gaining weight” section, focus on filling up throughout the day with nutrient dense foods, but you don’t have to eat quite so much.

Keep a food journal (with a fitness goals section) so you’re aware of what’s going into your body and how it makes you feel. If you’re like my friends from earlier, you can inhale an entire sleeve of cookies and be okay weight-wise, but does that actually make you feel energized and happy? If it’s something you’re okay with, then eat what you’d like. Food should not be the enemy here, but a partner through the day. 

Focus: Be aware of the food you’re consuming. As long as you’re eating whole, nutrient-dense foods like leafy greens, fish, and eggs, you can safely consume moderate amounts of sugar & starch. After all, life is meant to be enjoyed.