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What is revenge bedtime procrastination?

Revenge bedtime procrastination – a term many of us have never heard before but probably relate to.


Bedtime procrastination is simply defined as putting off going to bed despite feeling tired, usually sacrificing sleep for social or leisure time. The word revenge is added when people have stressful lives yet purposely delay going to bed because they feel angry and frustrated at their lack of leisure time throughout the day. The day has passed too quickly and they haven’t had any time to themselves through the day. By the time 11pm comes around, they sit and relax for the first time since they woke and want to extend that leisure time for as long as possible. Regular late nights combined with early mornings and busy daytimes mean sleep quantity reduces as the days go on even though sleep pressure (sleepiness) increases. This sleepiness can lead to a lack of concentration during the day, poorer performance at work, lower mood and higher stress, then contributing to even more of a need for downtime and relaxation. Again, if these needs are not met, revenge bedtime procrastination happens again and the cycle continues.


Thoughts and feelings influence actions, the negative actions then cause particular thoughts and feelings. The more frequently these negative cycles are carried out, whether consciously or subconsciously, the more reinforced the behaviour becomes and the harder it is to break the cycle. These cycles don’t make sense. It feels good to feel rested and refreshed upon waking so why do we put off going to bed when we know a good sleep will make our future selves feel better?


The first step to reducing this behaviour is being aware that you are doing it, and discovering why you are doing it. It is much more common in people with high stress jobs, busy family lives, people who rarely get time to themselves through the day. In modern times with smartphones and other devices being within arm’s reach 24/7, any quiet time we do get is often taken up with further distraction and stimulation from social media, television, emails, etc. Research suggests that these activities do not reduce stress levels - although you may have been sat quietly and feel you are physically relaxing, you have not been mentally recharging. Going to bed and switching the lights off may well be the first chance you have had all day to be alone with your thoughts.


Once you are conscious of what thoughts and feelings are causing you to procrastinate at bed time, it is much easier to actively try to manipulate and change them. If you can reduce the negative thought cycles and are able to go to bed easily at the first sign of sleepiness in the evening, you will wake up the following day feeling less tired, less stressed, happier, with more energy – what’s not to look forward to?!


Do you have a busy programme? Finding time between your commitments and scheduling in some relaxation, even just for 10 minutes, can make a huge difference in how you feel. If you feel better and you're less stressed, you go to bed more willingly, sleep better and for longer and wake up refreshed the following day. Instead of the negative thought cycle, you have introduced a positive one and the cycle continues until it becomes a habit.


Finding time to relax is easier said than done when juggling daily life, but it doesn’t have to be much. Anything is better than nothing - just a few minutes alone with your thoughts with no distractions can really help you feel calmer and less stressed through the day. Relaxation is a skill, and like other skills it takes practise. Little and often is the most effective way.


Relaxation takes many forms, it can be active or passive. Active relaxation includes things like sport, whereas passive relaxation includes things like meditation. It is important to get a balance of both. Book this time into your diary like an appointment so it becomes a non-negotiable part of your day. You wouldn’t skip a 30-minute dental appointment so why skip a relaxation session with yourself? Find a time that suits you and make it fit into your day.


Some examples are listed below:


- Getting up 10 minutes earlier to sit with your coffee and write down your tasks and goals for the day, including some things you’d like to do for yourself

- Read 10 pages of an enjoyable book before bed

- A 30 minute jog in a park or around nature straight after finishing work on Tuesdays and Fridays

- Some guided mediation for 15 minutes every evening

- Journal each morning and evening, this will help you to appreciate the time you have and allow you to notice the benefits of feeling rested in the morning

- Go out for a nice meal with your partner, some friends or your family - put your phone away so there are no distractions

- Listening to an interesting podcast whilst walking on your lunch break


The list is endless, do what suits you and remember it is supposed to be enjoyable. You need to relax both mentally and physically on a regular basis. Once you feel less stressed and have increased your opportunity to spend time with yourself, you will find that you no longer feel the need to procrastinate when feeling sleepy in the evening. You will go to bed earlier, sleep easier and feel more refreshed the following morning. The more frequently you do this, the more the positive habits will be reinforced.


Changing your behaviour takes time but you have to start sometime, why not today?