Revenge Bedtime Procrastination: Why People Do It and How to Stop

Revenge bedtime procrastination occurs when people delay going to sleep in order to feel in control of their life and schedule. This phenomenon is particularly associated with people who feel that they have little time for themselves during the day, for example due to their work schedule, so they delay sleep until late at night in order to have leisure time that they’re in control of.

Revenge bedtime procrastination can lead to various issues, so it’s important to understand it. As such, in the following article you will learn more about this phenomenon, understand its causes, and see what you can do to deal with it effectively.


Examples of revenge bedtime procrastination

An example of revenge bedtime procrastination is someone who spends almost all of their days either at work or dealing with errands, so they stay up late at night browsing social media and watching videos on their phone instead of sleeping, so they can feel that they have some control of their schedule.

Another example of revenge bedtime procrastination is a teenager who spends almost all of their days doing what their teachers and parents tell them to do, so they delay going to sleep in secret because that’s a way for them to rebel and feel in control.


Origin, history, and terminology

The concept of revenge bedtime procrastination was popularized in the following tweet, though the term has also been used previously by others:

“Learned a very relatable term today: “報復性熬夜” (revenge bedtime procrastination), a phenomenon in which 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.”

— Tweet by journalist Daphne K. Lee (June, 2020)

This concept and similar ones are sometimes referred to using other terms, such as revenge sleep procrastination, sleep revenge, and revenge insomnia.

The concept of revenge bedtime procrastination itself is currently largely informal, in the sense that there’s no research that investigates it directly. However, research has been conducted on related concepts on which it is based, including, most notably, bedtime procrastination, which occurs when people unnecessarily delay going to bed, especially when they know that doing so is bad for them.

In this regard, note that a distinction is sometimes drawn between bedtime procrastination and another type of sleep procrastination, called while-in-bed procrastination, which involves unnecessarily postponing going to sleep, after already getting into bed (e.g., by laying in bed and watching videos on the computer). However, “bedtime procrastination” is sometimes used to refer to delaying getting into bed after having fully prepared to go to sleep (e.g., by powering off all of one’s electronic devices). Furthermore, “bedtime procrastination” is often used synonymously with “sleep procrastination”, to refer to delaying going to sleep in general, and consequently, the term “revenge bedtime procrastination” can also be used in the same general sense, to refer to delaying going to sleep, regardless of whether a person is already in bed or not.


Dangers of revenge bedtime procrastination

The main dangers of revenge bedtime procrastination are the same as for other forms of sleep procrastination, and namely lack of sleep and exhaustion, which can lead to various issues, for example with people’s mental and physical health.

Furthermore, these issues can themselves lead to other types of issues, such as reduced capacity for self-regulation, and consequently to increased problematic behaviors, including increased procrastination in other domains (e.g., school or the workplace). This can lead to a problematic sleep-procrastination cycle, for example when procrastinating on going to sleep interferes with a person’s biological clock, which makes them more likely to procrastinate on going to sleep again in the future.

Finally, revenge bedtime procrastination can also lead to various other types of issues. For example, it can lead to negative emotions such as guilt and shame, if the procrastinator is conflicted about their behavior, or it can lead to interpersonal conflicts, if it frustrates individuals who want to help the procrastinator.


Psychology and causes of revenge bedtime procrastination

The main reason why people engage in revenge bedtime procrastination is their desire to feel in control, often by rebelling indirectly against someone who’s perceived as an authority figure. The authority figure can be someone specific, such as a parent, or something more general, such as societal norms.

This need for control as a primary reason for procrastination is what differentiates revenge bedtime procrastination from other bedtime procrastination. Though no formal research has been conducted on this phenomenon directly yet, the definition and description of this concept align with several aspects of prior research on procrastination.

This includes research which shows that revenge, rebellion, and resentment can drive people to procrastinate, especially on tasks that are imposed on them by authority figures, and especially when procrastination allows them to exert control and autonomy in situations where they would otherwise struggle to do so. As one study speculates:

“Procrastination, as a passive-aggressive form of revenge, might occur more frequently in powerless individuals who have fewer outlets for revengeful actions. These individuals cannot run the risk of retaliation and thus would be more likely to engage in subtler forms of behavior than their more powerful counterparts.”

Furthermore, revenge bedtime procrastination is also associated with the concept of deliberate procrastination, which in this context occurs when people intentionally delay going to sleep, because they feel that they deserve some time for themselves.

In addition, certain issues beyond the need for control, which can make people more likely to engage in sleep procrastination in general, can also make people more likely to engage in revenge bedtime procrastination. This includes poor sleep hygiene (e.g., using bright screens late at night), people’s chronotype (particularly, a preference for being up late at night), and a misaligned biological clock.

One of the key causes of sleep procrastination in this regard is the desire to keep engaging with available entertainment, and particularly digital entertainment, for example by watching TV or browsing social media. Such entertainment is easily accessible from many places (e.g., people’s bedroom and bed), is stimulating enough to keep people awake in many cases, and often requires relatively little effort to engage with. Using it is also associated with the phenomenon of mindless sleep procrastination, which occurs when people lose track of time because they’re immersed in evening and night activities.

However, note that the activities that people engage in during revenge bedtime procrastination aren’t necessarily enjoyable, and the procrastinator may engage with them simply out of a desire to feel in control. Furthermore, even in cases where the procrastinator does derive some satisfaction and enjoyment from their behavior, the procrastinator engaging in revenge bedtime procrastination can generally expect to be worse off as a result of delaying going to sleep, for example due to resulting lack of sleep and exhaustion, as with other forms of bedtime procrastination.


How to avoid revenge bedtime procrastination

If you realize that you’re engaging in revenge bedtime procrastination and want to stop doing so because of the issues it leads to, then you can use the following techniques:

  • Think about—and potentially write down—how this behavior harms you.
  • Think about—and potentially write down—how minimizing or ending this behavior could benefit you.
  • Realize that you’re primarily harming yourself, rather than whoever or whatever you’re rebelling against.
  • Find more positive ways to feel in control and have time for yourself.
  • Consider working with a relevant professional (e.g., a psychologist) to address the issues that are causing you to procrastinate, especially if issues such as anxiety and depression are involved.

In addition, to reduce revenge bedtime procrastination, can also use similar techniques as you would use to deal with general bedtime procrastination, including the following:

  • Improve your bedtime habits, by finishing your obligations as early as reasonably possible before bedtime, developing a consistent and calming bedtime routine, and adding a time delay before you procrastinate (e.g., counting to 30 before indulging your impulse to procrastinate).
  • Improve your sleep hygiene, by minimizing light exposure before bedtime (and especially exposure to bright or blue light), and avoiding stimulating activities, caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, and problematic foods (e.g., heavy meals) in the hours before bedtime.
  • Improve your sleep environment, by removing distractions and temptations (such as digital devices), and making your bedroom and bed feel comfortable.
  • Change your sleep habits, by setting a consistent sleep schedule, waking up earlier, and minimizing napping or avoiding it entirely.
  • Change your general habits, by exercising, getting exposure to light throughout the day, and minimizing the use of your bed and bedroom for things other than sleeping.
  • Improve your planning, by setting concrete goals, having a clear plan for achieving your goals, and figuring out how you will handle obstacles that you might encounter.
  • Increase your motivation, by clearly identifying why you want to go to bed on time, visualizing your future self, reminding yourself that sleep is a top priority for you, and acknowledging and rewarding your progress.
  • Change your mindset, by making sleep something that you look forward to, giving yourself permission to make mistakes, developing self-compassion (by being kind to yourself, recognizing that everyone experiences challenges, and accepting your emotions in a non-judgmental manner), and developing self-efficacy (by identifying the strategies that you can use to go to bed on time and thinking about your ability to execute them successfully).

You can use similar techniques to help someone else stop engaging in revenge bedtime procrastination (e.g., your child if you’re a parent). However, if you do this, make sure to avoid exacerbating the issues that cause revenge bedtime procrastination in the first place (e.g., making the procrastinator feel that they have no control by forcing them to go to bed at a certain time). Instead, focus on helping the procrastinator develop intrinsic and autonomous motivation for going to bed on time, while allowing them to maintain a sense of control, for example by talking to them about this behavior and asking them what they think could help them avoid it.

Finally, as when reducing any type of procrastination in yourself and in others, it can be beneficial to start by figuring out what causes the procrastination in the first place in your particular situation. This will help you figure out the best way to deal with it, particularly when it comes to choosing which specific anti-procrastination techniques to use.