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What Is Revenge Bedtime Procrastination?

Revenge bedtime procrastination is a problem with serious health effects.

Key points

  • Revenge bedtime procrastination is a new name for an old problem made worse by the demands of the pandemic.
  • The issue affects many but has been especially significant for young workers worldwide.
  • Recognizing the problem is the first step to eliminating it and developing better habits.
 Magnet Me/Unsplash
Source: Magnet Me/Unsplash

Most of us have had the experience of getting home at the end of a long day at work, taking care of the chores, being with family, and then realizing it is time for sleep. But what if you just don’t feel like going straight to bed after being focused and productive all day? It is very easy to start watching videos or scrolling endlessly through social media. Before you know it, bedtime has long passed and there are only a few hours left to catch some sleep before the cycle begins again.

You may have seen the term “revenge bedtime procrastination” in popular articles. It is not immediately clear what it means but it is the resistance to going to bed in order to have some time for oneself after a long and draining day at work followed by doing all the things that have to be done. It can seem that there are just not enough hours in the day. People are often reluctant to go to bed even when they are dead tired as they just want to have a few more minutes to relax without having to respond to the demands of the job or take care of family responsibilities. While understandable, this is an ineffective method of stress control and can easily result in daytime sleepiness and fatigue.

I have worked for years with patients who suffered from revenge bedtime procrastination. It got much worse during the pandemic as they felt a need to assert some control over their far from normal schedules and over their lives in general. This need to have some sense of control is a significant reason why people stay up far too late after a day devoted to work and chores that often feel like relentless obligations.

This deferred bedtime was previously referred to as bedtime procrastination (Kroese et al, 2014) and is defined as “failing to go to bed at the intended time, while no external circumstances prevent a person from doing so” (p. 1). The Sleep Foundation defined it as “the decision to sacrifice sleep for leisure time that is driven by a daily schedule lacking in free time.” Procrastination is a common problem and affects many people regarding obligations such as finishing homework, seeing the doctor, or paying bills. Using online survey methodology, Kroese et al (2014) found that people who had greater difficulty with self-regulation had more bedtime procrastination.

Basically, revenge bedtime procrastination is bedtime procrastination with an emphasis on the impact of long work hours on the willingness to forgo sleep in order to have a few more minutes of downtime. The idea of “revenge” originated in China during the COVID-19 pandemic. It became popular after a tweet by journalist Daphne K. Lee. It is a Chinese term reported to be ‘bàofùxìng áoyè’ and, apparently, can be translated as ‘retaliatory staying up late.'

This has affected hard-pressed millennials and zoomers due to the availability of smartphones, video games, and video streaming. For hard-pressed and over-extended young workers, the end of the day can seem like the only time they have for a few minutes to themselves. The pandemic upset regular schedules and many workers had to continue doing difficult jobs for long hours under sometimes unsettling conditions. Staying up too late became a way to have revenge against what cannot be controlled. Unfortunately, the only one really hurt by this is the person staying up too late and getting too little sleep.

A study by Kamphorst et al (2018) found that bedtime procrastination was related to resource depletion. Neuroscience findings have indicated that it takes more energy to do the things we should, but don’t want to, like exercising or going to sleep, and also to not do the things we want to but should not, like having that high-calorie snack or watching another video before lights out for sleep (see McGonigal, 2012). In the Kamphorst et al (2018) study, people who resisted more desires during the day had greater bedtime procrastination due to having already expended their mental resources while responding to daytime demands.

Magalhães, Cruz, Teixeira, Fuentes, & Rosário (2020) found two components to bedtime procrastination. With an online sample of 400 high school students, they found that some procrastination behaviors occurred before going to bed while others occurred in bed. Behaviors occurring before bed were related to later wake times and later dinner times, while those occurring in bed were related to male gender, later desired bedtime, and earlier dinner times. Before bed behaviors included not stopping ongoing activities and getting distracted by more enjoyable ones. In-bed activities included watching videos, listening to music, playing games, texting, and having snacks. The researchers noted that insufficient sleep in adolescents has been linked to the use of drugs and alcohol, engaging in high-risk sexual activities, having traffic accidents, and increased risk of depression and obesity.

Mendelsohn (2019) discussed the degree to which our behaviors are under the control of habitual behavior patterns. Habitual behaviors are helpful because they allow us to do routine activities without much, if any, thought, and allow us to concentrate mental effort on less routine and more pressing issues. Unfortunately, when the habitual pattern is to engage in revenge bedtime procrastination, this engrained behavior pattern is harmful rather than helpful. In order to not follow the habitual bedtime procrastination pattern and break the habit takes considerable awareness, attention, and effort.

How to change bedtime procrastination habits? First, reduce the demand on cognitive resources when preparing for bed (see Krosese et al, 2014). To start this process, clearly define the intention to go to bed and to keep a solid work/life balance. To develop this intention, consider the reasons for doing so, such as feeling better and being more productive. Second, do a self-inventory of why you are not going to bed when you want to. Are you are having a hard time getting started on the bedtime routine because you are having a difficult time stopping some fun activity or want to get one more thing done? Determining this can help the focus be on effective ways of switching to more adaptive behaviors. Third, be sure to plan some time for stress-reducing activities such as using social media, but give yourself a definite cut-off time when you will switch to pre-bedtime activities such as relaxation exercises or meditation. Plan and keep a relaxing bedtime routine that can become the new, healthier, habit. Fourth, note what your preferred bedtime is and, work schedule allowing, keep to it. Fifth, be sure to ban any activities other than sleep and intimacy from the bed. No use of electronics in bed, ever. Sixth, write down your plan and first thing in the morning review it and troubleshoot problems from the night before, then address these going forward.

 Created with Inkscape by Klem, manually edited by Mnmazur/Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
"Yin and Yang" by Klem.
Source: Created with Inkscape by Klem, manually edited by Mnmazur/Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Bedtime procrastination is a real problem with significant health effects, but it can be addressed with some self-analysis, intention setting, and the development of better habits. Even during this pandemic era, all things being equal, you are in control of your bedtime. It may not be easy, but you can choose to ditch revenge procrastination, get the sleep you need, and feel better. Sweet dreams.


Kamphorst, B. A., Nauts, S., De Ridder, D., & Anderson, J. H. (2018). Too depleted to turn in: The relevance of end-of-the-day resource depletion for reducing bedtime procrastination. Frontiers in psychology, 9, 252.

Kroese, F. M., De Ridder, D. T., Evers, C., & Adriaanse, M. A. (2014). Bedtime procrastination: Introducing a new area of procrastination. Frontiers in psychology, 5, 611.

Magalhães, P., Cruz, V., Teixeira, S., Fuentes, S., & Rosário, P. (2020). An Exploratory Study on Sleep Procrastination: Bedtime vs. While-in-Bed Procrastination. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(16), 5892.

McGonigal, K. (2012). The willpower instinct. New York: Penguin Group

Mendelsohn A. I. (2019). Creatures of habit: The neuroscience of habit and purposeful behavior. Biological psychiatry, 85(11), e49–e51.