People watching TV at night

The Psychology Of Revenge-Bedtime Procrastination: Why Do We Keep Doing It?

It’s 2 AM. It’s way past the bedtime that you promised to yourself. And not going to lie, you do feel tired. But thinking of how much stressful work has been and how little you have time to yourself, you still click on the next episode of the show on Netflix anyway.


Is this familiar to you? Do you feel the need to take revenge on your own bedtime just to have that time to yourself?


What is “revenge-bedtime procrastination”?

Revenge-bedtime procrastination is a psychological phenomenon in which people stay up later than they desire in an attempt to have control over the night, because they perceive themselves to lack influence over events during the day.

People watching TV at night

The concept of sleep procrastination itself is not new, there are a lot of researchers being familiar already on this topic. But the concept of doing it for revenge is quite new, where the word was first used in China to describe how people who worked 12-hour days would stay up late as a last resort to reclaim some control over their time. Following a viral tweet by journalist Daphne K. Lee, the term gained popularity. She used the word “bàofùxìng áoyè,” (revenge bedtime procrastination). She explained that it occurs when people who lack control over their everyday lives refuse to go to bed early in order to reclaim some sense of independence during the late hours of the night.


There are 3 criteria that qualify as sleep procrastination:

    • A person’s overall sleep time per night must be reduced as a result of the delay in going to sleep,
    • There is no other explanation for the delay in going to sleep (e.g. being sick, an environmental source interfering with sleep), and
    • The person is well aware that it may have bad effects, but nevertheless chooses to do so.



Why do we practise revenge-bedtime procrastination?

Many people, to an extent, do intentionally push away that bedtime from time to time. They usually do this to have their own me-time at night, and it usually begins in a small way. You may decide to stay up late to play games on your phone or catch up on your favourite television shows. 10 or 15 minutes quickly becomes an hour or two. In other circumstances, you may find yourself up until the wee hours of the morning doing insignificant things before finally succumbing and sleeping.

Woman sleeping in bed at night

With that being said, there are people who are prone to this even more often, such as parents of young children where the hours after their children have gone to bed may be the only time they have to do whatever they want, and workers with demanding work schedules where lying on the couch and binge-watching TV shows may be the only time they get to unwind.


Especially during the pandemic, the stress associated with stay-at-home orders may be contributing to an increase in revenge-bedtime procrastination for the general population. This happens when many people found it difficult to find time alone as the lines between home and work grew increasingly blurred. Thus, many people used bedtime procrastination to get some much-needed alone time in the late hours of the night.


So, while to an extent it is a familiar activity, to see an increase in the frequency of people engaging in this behaviour is very worrying. This is because it will lead to continuous sleep deprivation, which is disastrous for one’s health. The mind and body can’t adequately recharge if they don’t get enough sleep, which will lead to serious health consequences. According to VeryWell Mind alone, the consequences will not only be physical such as high blood pressure, weakening immunity, weight gain, and memory degradation, but also mental such as anxiety, depression and difficulty concentrating.


But still…


Why do we KEEP practising revenge-bedtime procrastination?

Sleep Foundation proposed two theories behind the psychology of revenge-bedtime procrastination; i.e., why it is so hard for us to stop, even when we know we should.


1. Intention-behavior gap.

The intention-behavior gap in revenge-bedtime procrastination refers to when people who procrastinate at bedtime know they should get enough sleep and generally want to, but they don’t. One explanation for this discrepancy is a lack of self-regulation. At the end of the day, our capacity for self-control is already at its lowest, which may assist sleep procrastination.


Additionally, some people are predisposed to procrastination in general, as well as at night. Furthermore, daytime obligations at work may deplete the self-control reserves accessible in the evening.



2. Too much emphasis on self-control.

Some argue that the first theory lays too much emphasis on self-control. People might just have an evening chronotype (night owls), and they are compelled to adjust to regimens set for early birds. This, unsurprisingly, causes sleep procrastination. On top of that, sacrificing sleep for leisure time may also be interpreted as an attempt to find recovery time in response to stress, rather than a lack of self-control.


The two theories are just two ends of a spectrum, which points out one obvious thing; according to Medical News Today, the less joyful activities a person could undertake during the day, the more likely they were to try to reclaim that time at night and engage in the more delightful activities they had missed out on during the day. 


Thus, the core way to overcome revenge-bedtime procrastination is to craft your ‘me time’ and make that your priority. Re-examine your daily routines and tasks in your daytime. Maybe there are things that you could delegate or remove so you can fit in your ‘me time’ there. Even if it’s just for a short moment, it counts! Use that time to unwind and do whatever you like. And be protective of that time, do not hesitate to say ‘no’ to unneeded things that may disrupt your alone time.


Because if you don’t, it will greatly affect your life and productivity.


How can revenge-bedtime procrastination affect our lives and productivity?

Woman sleeping in bed with laptop and work nearby

As mentioned before, sleep deprivation is detrimental to one’s physical and mental health. Your body will not have the opportunity to recover after a hard day if you do not obtain the essential number of hours of sleep. Additionally, it causes daytime sleepiness, which will impact your performance in the workplace. Furthermore, you are also more prone to feel agitated and have less emotional control. This, in turn, affects how you work with people around you. Needless to say, people who develop revenge-bedtime procrastination as a habit are likely to suffer greatly in their lives and productivity.


I understand. Through revenge-bedtime procrastination, you will feel like you are taking control over the time that you have lost. This then encourages you to do it more and more, even if the risks outweigh the benefits. But it is all an illusion. You’re using that control to do what makes you feel like resting such as binging shows or mindlessly scrolling social media, rather than to actually rest (i.e., sleep).


The core way of combatting revenge bedtime procrastination, is to ensure that you have your satisfactory ‘me time’ during the day. As that was elaborated already earlier, here are some tips on how to tackle the second half of the problem; getting more sleep to rest.



1. Make sleep easier for you.

An appealing sleeping environment may help to resist the tendency to sacrifice sleep for leisure activities. Here are a few examples; Ensure the temperature in the bedroom is not too hot or too cold. Turn off or dim as much light as possible, and use calming sounds in the room such as white noise.


2. Stick to a night routine.

After figuring out how you can make yourself sleep easier, incorporate that into your end-of-the-day routine. Routines can make certain activities feel almost automatic, making it easier to resist the temptation to remain up later instead of going to bed.


For more tips, check out this article on how to set up a bedtime routine to get a well-rested sleep!


3. Be consistent.

Woman sleeping in bed

A habit will not easily break away in one or two days; there’s no need to be so hard on yourself. Start with small and reasonable goals, and keep working with different approaches as things will not always go as planned.




It should be no surprise that revenge bedtime procrastination can be a tough habit to break. But it’s not impossible. Tackle it from the roots by instilling that psychology within yourself. You are in control of your daytime, and you are able to do things that fulfil you within that time frame. The only way to do that is to re-examine and make lifestyle changes to your day. Along with developing good sleep hygiene, slowly but surely, you will gain the actual control of your night that you desperately desire.

An introvert writer since 2009. Writes about personal growth, psychology & looking at life from a different perspective. Enjoys a lazy evening watching YouTube on the cozy bed.

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