How many times this week have you said: “I’m going to bed early tonight,” only to find yourself mindlessly scrolling through social media or watching television until 3:00 am?
It turns out there’s a name for this pervasive phenomenon: revenge bedtime procrastination, or RBP. Basically, RBP happens when people purposely skip or delay sleep to make up for the leisurely time they missed during working hours. In other words, it’s one way your brain has for carving some “me time” after a busy day — at the cost of sleep.
What are the signs of revenge bedtime procrastination?
This phenomenon is likely widespread, as over-stretched workers, or anyone dedicating most of their daytime to others, put off bedtime to claim some precious personal time – even though they know it’s not good for them. At its core, RBP is about trying to take back control over our time and how we choose to spend it. This happens, unfortunately, at the cost of important nighttime rest, and it’s often the result of a hectic daily schedule without sufficient free time.
Preliminary research suggests that moms and students are common victims of RBP, probably because their daytime responsibilities extend beyond a 9 to 5 schedule.
But the COVID-19 pandemic and the advent of remote work have blurred the lines between home life and work life for millions of people. In fact, a recent study found that working from home has led to a 2.5-hour increase in the average working day in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and other countries. This may mean that more of us are struggling with RBP than ever before.
What people do during episodes of RBP varies widely. Scrolling through social media and watching TV are common activities, but it can also look like calling or texting a friend to catch up, listening to podcasts, or reading. Whatever the activity, the common denominator is that the end result is always putting off sleep.
Okay, but what does revenge have to do with it?
The term “bedtime procrastination” was first coined in a 2014 exploratory study looking at sleep-related behaviors that could potentially disrupt sleep. It identified watching YouTube videos, texting, and watching movies as the activities people most frequently engaged in while “procrastinating in bed,” which they defined as “going to bed later than intended, without having external reasons for doing so.”
The word revenge is a more recent addition. Revenge seems to have been thrown into the mix in the late 2010s in China to describe how people working the infamous “996 schedule” (working from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm six days a week) stay up late as a way to regain some sort of ownership over their time. The revenge aspect is because staying late — even during a work or school night — comes almost as an act of retaliation against the unfairness of being overworked.
I think I’m a revenge bedtime procrastinator – how can I stop?
Although RBP is still an emerging topic in medicine, the health effects of losing sleep are well documented. Lack of sleep…
- Increases risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, dementia, and obesity
- Decreases focus, memory, concentration, learning, and productivity
- Compromises your immune system
- Decreases ‘health span” (living longer in a healthier state as opposed to living longer in a debilitated, degenerative state
- Affects glucose metabolism and type 2 diabetes risk
- Increases risk of depression
At its most extreme, severe sleep deprivation can cause hallucinations and trigger serious mental health disorders, like psychosis. Fortunately, the occasional lack of sleep will not cause issues that intense. However, it can still affect your mood, degrade decision making, thinking, and memory, and lower your sex drive.
The good news is that it’s possible to overcome RBP — it all starts with reframing your relationship with sleep. Think about it: the more you procrastinate at night, the more tired you’re going to be the next day. This translates into probably having to work longer to make up for not being as efficient and, as a result, feeling like you need more time to decompress.
Yes, it’s tempting to log in to see what everybody has been up to on social media or to catch up on your favorite TV show. But, if RBP is affecting your well-being, is it really worth it? Not likely.
Make it a point to sleep at least 7 hours a night, each night. 7 hours is all you need to keep alert and energized during the day. If you can sleep more, that’s great! However, keep in mind that over 9 hours is considered oversleeping in adults.
It’s also important to prepare your body for sleep, which you can accomplish by creating a simple bedtime routine that signals your brain that it’s time to rest. Here are some easy things you may want to consider doing:
- Set up an alarm or notification to signal it’s time to start preparing for bed
- Don’t eat heavy or fatty meals before bed. Also, avoid drinking coffee or alcohol at least 6 hours before going to sleep
- Lower the lights and adjust the thermostat — studies suggest that 65 F is a good temperature for sleep
- Take a warm bath or shower — bonus points if you use a calming essential oil roll-on!
- Stretch or do a quick wind-down yoga session
- If you like to fall asleep watching TV or listening to music, set the sleep timer on your devices so they automatically shut off after a set period of time.
- Take a nightly sleep supplement
It’s important to have downtime when you can be mentally distanced from work and other daily commitments. While there’s nothing wrong with staying up late from time to time, when you consistently sacrifice sleep to catch up on leisure activities, it will eventually take a toll on your body. Don’t deprive yourself of important rest just to make up for “lost time.” Without enough hours of sleep, the mind and body can’t properly recharge. Sleep deprivation can cause myriad health problems, affects your cognitive function, and decrease your longevity.
Try to grab a little leisure time during the day so you can catch up on your sleep at night. Creating a bedtime ritual that works for you is one of the best ways to ensure you get enough quality sleep. Try making your bedroom a pleasant environment that makes sleep more appealing, and think about reframing your relationship with sleep to focus on the positive aspects of resting.
Talk with a healthcare professional if you have ongoing sleep problems. Identifying and addressing the underlying causes will help you achieve the good sleep and happy, healthy life that you deserve.
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