Let’s set the scene: Your nightly self-care routine ended hours ago (the lights are off, the moisturizer slathered on), but you’re still not asleep. You’re wide awake, actually, and you’re doom-scrolling — that WebMD article, that one Reddit thread — or maybe you’re just in bed, mindlessly shopping for a pair of leggings TikTok suggested you’d buy. Again.
You’re so hyper-focused on whatever’s keeping you from falling asleep, it’s as if you don’t want to uncover a dreadful realization: No bedtime reminder or screen time limit could ever stop you from staring into the abyss that is your phone at 2:00 A.M. on a work night.
Exhausted? Yeah, sure — but you just can’t stop. And with the popularization of sleep apps like Calm and Headspace, it seems that everyone knows, possibly now more than ever, that we should be prioritizing our sleep, which can make us feel a little guilty about this nighttime behavior. Suddenly, it feels less like a bad habit and more like the ultimate form of self-sabotage.
Well, this nightly self-sabotage ruining your sleep has a name: revenge bedtime procrastination.
“Revenge bedtime procrastination” is a term that was popularized amongst Gen Z and Millennials in China and spread rapidly on Twitter. The phrase describes the phenomenon of delaying sleep to make up for a loss of free time during the day; This free time, of course, being lost to something mandatory, like work or taking care of children.
It’s important to note that this isn’t delayed sleep-phase syndrome or just another late night. Rachel Pastiloff, Health and Wellness coach and co-host of @nobullshitmotherhood explains on her Instagram the difference: That no real or unavoidable circumstances are stopping you from getting to bed on time. There’s an “absence of a valid reason for staying up later than intended, such as an external even or underlying illness,” she writes in a post.
Plenty of people are seizing the freedom of nighttime hours, even if there aren’t many benefits. The reason? It also has quite a bit to do with control. Overall, since the pandemic, there’s been heightened major mental and psychological health problems worldwide, from the prevalence of depression and anxiety to distress and insomnia, with 40 percent of people reporting having sleep issues since this time last year. This could be attributed to plenty of things, from the difficulty of isolation to WFH extended hours.
Still, students and women are more susceptible to revenge bedtime procrastination. “Sometimes it’s also seen more often with people who may have OCD or ADHD,” Lenée, an RN with a focus on child psychological health tells SheKnows, “Delayed sleep and ADHD can sometimes be linked. People with high-functioning anxiety or those with OCD may have a greater desire for control.”
But everyone is capable of putting off sleep while still craving it. “I work nightshift — and I still do it!” she adds. That’s why it’s important to know how to stop.
Some experts suggest setting boundaries during the day, such as carving out time to call up an old friend or to practice mindfulness. Whatever the way, you should be prioritizing yourself and focusing on your own needs before sundown, and this has the potential to help gain back some of that control. When in bed, setting limits on technology as well as creating a bedtime “window” can be helpful, too.
Oh, also: Reserve your bed for sleep and sex only. It’s said that your body and mind should think of your bedroom as a “place of rest and intimacy.”
So move all future Netflix binge sessions to the couch, okay?
A version of this story was published March 2021.
Before you go, check out some of our sleepy time essentials for trying to get a good night’s rest: