It’s 10pm. On a ‘good’ day, you might think about starting to get ready for bed, and maybe you do – maybe you slip into your PJs, do your skincare routine and nestle down under the covers. But before you go to sleep, there’s just one more episode of The Real Housewives Of Beverley Hills to watch, as well as all those news articles you’ve had saved for a while that you’ve been meaning to get round to. And that’s not forgetting a quick scroll through Twitter and TikTok to finish. One more video won’t hurt, will it?
Suddenly, it’s 2am. And that early night you’d been meaning to have? Well, that’ll have to wait until tomorrow – until tomorrow becomes 2am too, of course.
If you’ve found yourself in a situation similar to the above before, you’re not alone. Although the current conversation around sleep often focuses on topics such as how to fall asleep quickly, the benefits of a healthy bedtime routine and what to do when you wake up in the middle of the night, many people actually find the act of getting themselves to bed in the first place – and not ‘putting off’ bedtime – the biggest hurdle to a good night’s sleep.
It’s a phenomenon the Chinese call ‘bàofùxìng áoyè’ or revenge bedtime procrastination – the decision to put off going to sleep in order to enjoy more leisure time.
When I first heard about the phenomenon of ‘revenge bedtime procrastination,’ I was completely taken aback. It was like when you hear one of those very long German words which perfectly describe a specific emotion or feeling – it was something I’d always struggled with, but had never actually realised I was doing until it hit me square in the face.
However, as someone who regularly complains about feeling tired, and already struggles to wake myself up in the morning, I couldn’t help but wonder: why, when there’s so much focus nowadays on the benefits of getting a good night’s sleep for our mental and physical health, are so many of us choosing to lose sleep in order to enjoy more ‘me time’?
The answer, it seems, could lie in the origins of the term itself. In China, ‘revenge bedtime procrastination’ is a term regularly used to describe the behaviour of workers who, under the expectation to work long hours under the ‘996 schedule’ (in which workers work 9am-9pm six days a week), use the time when they are supposed to be sleeping in order to carve out leisure time outside of work, which they otherwise wouldn’t get to enjoy.
While the 966 schedule may not exist in the UK, thanks to our ‘always on’ culture and the blurring of work/life boundaries many people are experiencing while working from home, this kind of pressure to find time for leisure and fun at the end of the day is likely something many workers here are experiencing, too.
And in this way, choosing to put off going to sleep in order to engage in more ‘me time’ isn’t just a choice between getting a good night’s sleep or having a bit of fun – it’s a rebellious act which can help people to ‘get back’ on the daytime when they’re unable to enjoy themselves and shake off the stress of work.
James Wilson aka The Sleep Geek, a sleep practitioner at Beingwell, agrees. For Wilson, revenge bedtime procrastination is something which occurs when people feel like they don’t get time “to do what they want to do,” so instead of going to bed at a normal time, they ‘steal’ time away from their sleeping hours to do the things they’d like to do during the day.
“People who engage in revenge bedtime procrastination are often doing it because they feel like, with the stresses and strains of the day – works, kids, partners etc – that they just don’t get time to themselves,” he says.
“They prioritise this ‘me time’ over sleep and it can lead to them staying up hours past the time their body’s natural rhythm would like them to be asleep, which leaves them sleep-deprived and exhausted the next day.”
As Wilson rightly points out, although revenge bedtime procrastination may feel like a solution to feeling stressed and worn out during the day, it can actually lead to more problems in the long run because of the sleep deprivation it causes. Indeed, a lack of sleep can actually make you feel more stressed, so skipping out on sleep to ‘destress’ probably isn’t a good idea.
So, if you’re struggling to get your revenge bedtime procrastination under control, what can you do to address it? According to Wilson, working out your ‘sleep type’ could help you to better understand when to fit your leisure time into your day.
“If you are an owl (late to bed and late to rise) then that ‘me time’ might be better achieved in the evening, while if you are more of a lark (early to bed and early to rise), carving out some time in the morning might suit your body’s natural rhythm better,” he says. “By understanding your sleep type you can also understand at what time you should start trying to get to sleep.”
On top of this, Wilson also recommends engaging in some ‘me time’ which will also help you to feel sleepy, so by the time you’re in bed, you’re looking forward to switching off.
“Ensure the activities you choose to do are geared towards relaxing you, dropping your heart rate and dropping your core temperature,” he recommends. “Try a bath, for example, that gives you some me time, but also drops your core temperature as you step out of it, or replace endlessly scrolling on your phone with a meditation app. These simple changes will give you a routine that gives you time to replenish, while also helping you to feel sleepy.”
While going to bed late every once in a while is certainly no big deal, if you’re finding yourself awake at 2am more often than not, making some of these simple changes could be a good idea.
Indeed, getting on top of revenge bedtime procrastination may not be easy, but just being aware of what you’re doing – and being able to give your behaviour a name – is a great first step towards getting things under control.