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Revenge Bedtime Procrastination: How To Break the Cycle

Alone time feels like a distant memory to many of us since the beginning of the pandemic. We’re with our families all day, every day, working from home, schooling from home, eating, and exercising at home. 

Parents’ days are filled to the brim with togetherness and by the time the house is quiet and everyone’s in bed, we want to soak it in as much as possible, even if that means staying up later than we should. The phenomenon actually has a name — Revenge Bedtime Procrastination — and it’s a legitimate sleep disorder.

What Is Revenge Bedtime Procrastination?

Revenge bedtime procrastination simply means that we stay up later than we should, trying to soak up some of that all-important quiet time. Though the name seems to suggest otherwise, Revenge Bedtime Procrastination isn’t malicious in nature. Parents just want some downtime, and staying up late to get it is an act of “revenge” on a day full of serving others while not addressing their own needs. 

In a 2018 study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, researchers set out to determine just why people are willing to sacrifice their sleep. They found that people who resist their own desires during a taxing day are more likely to put off bedtime in an attempt to reclaim some independence. “Resisting desires throughout the day may have a cumulative effect on people’s self-control in the evening,” resulting in bedtime procrastination.

Any parent who’s ever stayed up past midnight soaking up the quiet while reading a book or scrolling their social media pages is already familiar with revenge bedtime procrastination, but the pandemic has exacerbated things. Parents who had a commute or work lunch break that allowed them to relax are now working from home with their children and/or partner around all day. Parents who already worked from home but had kids in school are now stuck trying to balance work and managing e-learning. 

“You give a large portion of your day to your job during this pandemic and the time that you’re free is spent with your kids and the family,” explained psychologist Dr. Azizi Seixas. “So, once they head to bed we’re like ‘No, this is my time. I deserve it.’ What ends up happening, is that parents delay the time they go to bed because they want to feel like they get their ‘me -time.’ Parents are sacrificing their sleep in order to get time to themselves.”

Alone time is at an all-time low for parents, so it’s really no wonder we’re staying up until the wee hours of the morning trying to reclaim some autonomy and independence.

What Is the Impact of Revenge Bedtime Procrastination?

Unfortunately, sacrificing sleep isn’t a great idea when it comes to maintaining overall health or managing stress.

“The only positive with revenge sleep procrastination is that there’s a false appearance that you have more control over your life,” Sara Makin, M.S.Ed., NCC, LPC, told Medical News Today. “This is very reinforcing and will entice you to continue this behavior, even though the risks outweigh the rewards. There is no genuine positive effect to reducing the quality and time of your sleep. Consistent and good quality sleep is the foundation of sound physical and mental health.”

It’s been proven time and time again that quality sleep is a cornerstone of good mental and physical health. In the short term, sleep deprivation can cause a decreased attention span, poor decision-making skills, decreased energy, and poor memory. Long-term, the effects are even more dramatic. Heart disease, diabetes, immune system problems, obesity, hormone abnormalities, and mental health issues can all be caused by sleep deprivation.

When it comes to balancing alone time and preserving the sanctity of sleep, the decision may seem clear considering the health implications, but for many parents, it’s not so clear-cut. Those few precious hours of solitude might be all that keeps us going throughout our days filled with meeting the needs of others. 

But, balance is important. The old saying “you can’t pour from an empty cup” is more true now in Covid times than ever before but it takes more than four hours of sleep to fill your cup. Staying up late to squeeze in a few extra minutes of alone time may seem like a great solution to our too-full days, but the long-term implications of prolonged sleep deprivation may make it harder to manage the stress those days bring. 

How To Cope with Bedtime Revenge Procrastination

In general, any insomnia solutions are also relevant for bedtime revenge procrastination — no screens before bed, no exercise too close to bedtime, a dark, quiet bedroom. But at its core, bedtime revenge procrastination is caused by a lack of free time, so that should also be addressed.

Make Freetime a Priority

It’s imperative that you carve out some alone time during the day. Add it to your daily agenda, set a reminder on your phone, have your smart device announce it to the household, whatever it takes. Twenty or thirty uninterrupted minutes to concentrate on whatever you want each day makes a big difference.

Take Periodic Breaks

When our days are jam-packed with putting out fires and doing things for other people, setting aside a few minutes to relax can help you de-stress and prevent a longer winding-down period at night. Quick, five-minute breathing exercises or a short series of stretches or yoga poses can help all that tension melt away.

Understand Change Takes Time

Implementing new coping strategies into our already full days can feel overwhelming or may even cause guilt. Don’t let it. Understand that by prioritizing yourself and your own well-being you’ll be better able to meet the needs of those who depend on you most. 

Addressing bedtime revenge procrastination can have a major impact on not only your quality of sleep but your overall health and mental well-being. Fill your cup so you can pour from it more effectively.


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Kristi is a mother of two, writer, and mostly normal human being. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Parents Magazine, Real Simple and many others. When she's not wrangling her children she can usually be found sitting on her front porch trying to find some much-needed quiet time.
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