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There is a Word for It: Revenge Bedtime Procrastination

I fell into the abyss of Instagram on one tragic night and I came across an illustration that made me feel so visible. It depicted a struggle that I have been working for several months. Not only did it describe what I had been doing for several years now, but there is an actual word for it. It’s called revenge bedtime procrastination. It sounds so tragic with revenge in there, but it is really the most liberating feeling when it is happening even though there are so many downsides to this behavior.

Revenge bedtime procrastination also known as retaliatory staying up late is described by journalist Daphne K. Lee as the phenomenon where “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”. It is an attempt by individuals to feel some semblance of control of time.

Before the pandemic, I would be up by 5a.m. getting two children and myself ready for work and school and out the door by 7a.m. We’d get the train to Manhattan, where I would drop them off and either walk to class close by or another train back to Brooklyn, depending on the schedule that day. Every day I was working and in class, so I was on the train at least three times before heading to pick up my children, and then back home to Brooklyn. I get home and it’s dinner, baths, dishes, lunch preparation and homework. And I still had to be someone’s wife. There was no time to breathe.

Regardless of my strenuous schedule, I still found time to engage in bedtime procrastination, even though it meant I was losing sleep. I hardly ever made it to bed before 12a.m, and I had to be up by 5a.m. I craved that time to myself at the end of a long day, especially when I felt like I had been driven like a mule.

Revenge bedtime procrastination can easily go for thirty minutes, to an hour, two hours, and pretty soon, sleep begins to feel like it no longer matters. It can quickly get out of control to the point that this becomes a practice several nights a week. It eventually becomes draining.

It leaves your mind and body depleted, but there is still always that desire to escape. This really fuels the behavior, even though you know it is detrimental. The need for control and freedom surpasses the need for sleep. It feels like every part of your day belongs to everyone else, but you. So at night, you take back the control that you have freely given to everyone else. It feels almost euphoric in the moment.

But then comes the massive downside; you’re losing sleep and if that continues, your health suffers. Revenge bedtime procrastination feels good in the moment, but the person who suffers the most is the individual who engages in the behavior. If the behavior continues long-term, there are truly detrimental effects on a person’s physical and mental wellness.

For this reason, long term sleep deprivation is not an emblem of success, but rather a pathway to poor health. As liberating as it feels to just grab some time to yourself, it is important to manage the amount of time spent engaging in whatever activity brings you comfort and gives you that control.

The saying I’ll sleep when I die is indeed the most toxic belief that one can exercise, because in actuality, not sleeping can lead to an earlier death. That is truly the travesty of uncontrolled revenge bedtime procrastination.

Today, declare that you are prepared to make changes for better sleep hygiene. Treat your body and mind like the temples that they are for a longer and more fulfilling life.

Do you exercise revenge bedtime procrastination?

(Photo: Erica Lewis, Instagram with explicit permission to use illustration)


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