- "Revenge bedtime procrastination" occurs when people sacrifice sleep in order to have some free time.
- Revenge procrastination allows people to "get back at" their days, which afford them no chance for necessary high-quality leisure time.
- Engaging in revenge procrastination may harm relationships by moving couples away from their ideal bedtime routines.
- Couples who engage in revenge procrastination together may be attempting to secure much-needed couple leisure time.
It's late. You could go to bed. Instead, you're scrolling through Instagram, puttering around the house, watching "just one" more episode of your latest series binge. Time is ticking away and you're reveling in this late-night freedom. In fact, you are downright indulging in the luxury of unimpinged-upon time, even as you realize the morning will be all the harder the longer you linger.
What is "revenge bedtime procrastination"?
If this sounds familiar, welcome to "revenge bedtime procrastination" (often called "revenge procrastination"), a practice of delaying sleep for the pleasure of some leisure time. This isn't staying up late for a specific project, a party, or because you know you can sleep late the next day. This is sacrificing sleep for some free time. According to SleepFoundation.org, to be considered revenge procrastination, delaying bedtime requires:
- Shortened sleep. When you're revenge bedtime procrastinating, your late-night arrival to bed has the consequence of shortening your sleep, so that total hours of sleep are reduced.
- Staying awake purely for free time. Your bed is available and super cozy, and you have no valid external justification for staying up late. No work-related demands that require immediate attention, you're not worried about a big event the next day, you're not sick. All is copacetic with friends, parents, and kids. You're simply staying up late in order to stay up late for free time.
- Full awareness that you should go to bed. Awareness is a core feature of revenge bedtime procrastination. You know staying up late isn't a good idea, but you're enjoying it, so you keep delaying making your way to bed. The pleasure of a few minutes (hours?) of free time is so wonderful that you sacrifice sleep to obtain it.
Why engage in revenge procrastination?
Staying up late in lieu of much-needed sleep seems like a self-destructive habit: you're setting yourself up for a grumpy tomorrow. Yet, it serves a purpose. Revenge procrastinators are enacting revenge upon their days, days that do not afford them the degree of free, flexible time that they desire and need. Leisure time is not an indulgence, but an important component of psychological health and well-being (Kuykendall, Boemerman, & Zhu, 2018).
When your days don't allow you consecutive minutes of freedom—minutes that belong solely to you—revenge procrastination, even with its consequences, may seem worth it.
Pandemic Procrastination: The rise of revenge procrastination
The recent increase in attention to revenge procrastination may reflect the day-to-day changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. We might yet be social distancing, but rest assured: If you're revenge procrastinating, you're in good company. Other people are awake and enacting revenge on their days as well. Oppressive work schedules, poor work-life balance, persistent demands from bosses, children, or family... if these fill your normal waking hours, you may be tempted by the sweet appeal of staying up late just to own some of your time.
Revenge procrastination rarely helps
Unfortunately, the kinds of activities that most people engage in during revenge procrastination are unlikely to be considered high-quality leisure activities. Watching TV alone or using social media, for example, do little to enhance overall well-being (Kuykendall et al., 2018).
What we need is experiential leisure, the kind of leisure that has the potential to satisfy multiple psychological needs. Social time, sports, art, creative projects... leisure activities that are intrinsically motivated and freely chosen are the ones that fulfill a broad array of needs. Experiential leisure detaches people from their stress, allowing them a respite before returning to manage the stress. High-quality leisure activities can give people a sense of autonomy and agency in their own lives, while supporting their sense of mastery as they build skills and competence. High-quality leisure supports feelings of social connection.
In many ways, revenge procrastinators are pushing back against a lack of daytime opportunity to engage in "good" leisure. If they could do intrinsically motivated, high-quality leisure during daylight hours, they would! When you simply can't own your time and can't engage in healing, need-fulfilling leisure during the day, staying up late is a balm (albeit an inadequate balm) after a stressful, all-encompassing day. For a little while, you're in control of your own time.
Revenge procrastination and your relationship
Women are more likely than men to revenge procrastinate (Herzog-Krzywoszanska & Krzywoszanski, 2019), a trend that may be accentuated currently given the disproportionate burden of the pandemic on women. This may mean that women, more than men, are regularly going to bed after their partners on account of revenge procrastination.
Recent evidence shows that almost 80 percent of couples ideally want to go to bed at the same time, even if they typically don't do so (Drouin & McDaniel, 2021). Mismatched bed timing predicts lower relationship satisfaction, perhaps because when couples do match their bedtime, it symbolizes togetherness and may afford an end-of-the-day opportunity for emotional connection.
But what if you revenge procrastinate with your partner? While watching TV alone may have little to offer in need fulfillment, couples who watch TV together before bed tend to be more satisfied with their bedtime routines, a satisfaction that may translate to greater relationship and life satisfaction (Drouin & McDaniel, 2021). In other words, joint revenge procrastination could theoretically have a positive effect on couples. This may be particularly true for couples who have little room in their normal waking hours to engage in leisure together, which is important for relationship health.
Probably the most direct effect of revenge procrastination on relationship quality is due to the fact that it shortens sleep. We all know it: Sleep deprivation sets us up for moodiness, impulsiveness, little patience, and less positivity. Indeed, research shows that people who are sleep deprived show less emotional empathy towards their partners and more negative affect, which leads to worse conflict resolution (Gordon & Chen, 2014; Guadagni, Burles, Ferrara, & Iaria, 2014).
How to not revenge procrastinate
Resisting the temptation to revenge procrastinate, when all you want is some of your own free time, is especially challenging at the end of a long day. Yet working towards a consistent earlier bedtime that allows you to get enough sleep is vitally important.
One way to stop revenge procrastinating is to intentionally establish a new bedtime routine, even if it's difficult to do so at first. Provide yourself a step-by-step guide to move from your day, peacefully to bed (with no technology nearby). After a short while, habits become automatic, and you will no longer need to exert effort to simply go to bed (and not revenge procrastinate). Plus, after a few days of longer sleep, sticking with a new bedtime routine may be easier.
Revenge procrastination is a sign that some of your psychological needs are not being met during daylight hours. If possible, see what you can do to add leisure time, alone or with your partner, to your daily routine, or to your weekly routine. If that's not possible right now, remember that a good night's sleep has far more benefits than an hour (or more) of mindless late-night procrastinating.
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Kuykendall, L., Boemerman, L., & Zhu, Z. (2018). The importance of leisure for subjective well-being.In E. Diener, S. Oishi, & L. Tay (Eds.), Handbook of well-being. Salt Lake City, UT: DEF Publishers
Herzog-Krzywoszanska, R., & Krzywoszanski, L. (2019). Bedtime procrastination, sleep-related behaviors, and demographic factors in an online survey on a Polish sample. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 13, 963.
Drouin, M., & McDaniel, B. T. (2021). Technology use during couples’ bedtime routines, bedtime satisfaction, and associations with individual and relational well-being. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Advanced online publication.
Guadagni, V., Burles, F., Ferrara, M., & Iaria, G. (2014). The effects of sleep deprivation on emotional empathy. Journal of Sleep Research, 23(6), 657-663.