Celeste Perez could have been asleep. But at 2 a.m., she was puttering around in her bedroom-turned-beauty salon: First, she rolled a microneedling device around her face to improve her skin tone, and then she shaped her eyebrows with a laminating treatment. At 3 a.m., Perez, 34, embarked on a Wikipedia treasure hunt, spinning down a rabbit hole of things that she urgently had to know more about: the definition of multipotentiality, Mariah Carey’s discography and Cleopatra’s beauty remedies.
During the day, Perez, the Los Angeles-based co-founder of Droplet, a functional beverage company designed to promote self-care, is busy coding a new e-commerce website and shipping product to consumers. She also runs a brand studio, WellFed.co, and a nail art company, Tenfold. “Night is when I can really focus on myself, and not be afraid that it’s taking time away from anybody else,” she said.
This tendency to push off sleep — for 10 minutes, and then 15 or 30 more, even with a looming nonnegotiable wake-up call — has a name: revenge bedtime procrastination.
Journalist Daphne K. Lee introduced the term in a viral tweet last summer, describing it as what happens when “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.”
Lee was specifically thinking about people in China who work 12 or more hours a day and sacrifice sleep in an act of defiance; they have a term for it that roughly translates as “retaliatory staying up late.” But overcommitted people worldwide have latched onto the expression as a way to articulate the desire to swap sleep for personal time. That’s been especially true as the coronavirus pandemic erased the lines between work, school and home.
Revenge bedtime procrastination has been “exacerbated during covid, when people are sort of vengeful about ‘me time,’ and that ‘me time’ only occurs when they know they should be going to bed,” said Wendy Troxel, a senior behavioral scientist with the RAND Corporation and author of “Sharing the Covers: Every Couple’s Guide to Better Sleep.”
Shelby Harris, a board-certified behavioral sleep medicine specialist in White Plains, N.Y., said that at least once a week, she hears from someone struggling with revenge bedtime procrastination. “It’s a new term but an age-old problem,” she said.
Delaying sleep for any reason is concerning, added Harris, the author of “The Women’s Guide to Overcoming Insomnia.” Sleep deprivation can affect you physically, leading to weakened immunity, high blood pressure, weight gain and an increased risk of heart disease, among other health problems, she said. And it can affect you mentally, creating memory issues and difficulty thinking and concentrating.
“The more you procrastinate at night, the more you’re going to have trouble being effective and efficient at the things you need to do the next day,” Harris said. “Then you’re working later at night and feel like you need more time to decompress. It just continues the cycle.”
Revenge sleep procrastination can also affect our emotions. “One of the things that’s immediately hit hardest is our moods, and we’re less able to regulate our emotions,” Troxel said. And it can spell trouble for relationships, she said, “when one partner really wants to go to sleep and the other is scrolling through Netflix or social media.”
If you’ve decided revenge bedtime procrastination is affecting your well-being, here are tips from experts for overcoming it.
Carve out time for yourself — and maximize it. Just like you make time for dinner or your kid’s softball practice, ensure that leisure time is a designated part of your day. Schedule it for the early evening hours, if possible, with plenty of wiggle room before bedtime. And then choose an activity that’s “pleasurable and enjoyable, and that’s actually going to support your mental health or resilience in the face of stress,” Troxel said.
Prune your schedule. We’re more likely to feel vengeful when we don’t see the value in our daily time commitments, said Christine Li, a clinical psychologist and anti-procrastination coach in New York. “Don’t waste your time in useless meetings or with obligations that you really don’t care for,” she said. “Start cutting out things that don’t make you happy or satisfied or content, and then maybe you won’t feel like you want to take revenge” at the end of the day.
Have a frank talk with yourself. Envision what the next day is going to bring, and how much more productive you’ll be if you get enough sleep. Harris suggests making a list of what sleep will help you accomplish: being alert during a big meeting, less snappy at home or energized enough to go for a run, for example. “Remind yourself why you’re making sleep a priority,” she said.
Be firm. Stop using phrases such as “I’ll try to go to bed at 10” or “I’ll think about going to bed at 10.” Instead, tell yourself “I will go to bed at 10.” Such firmness can help ensure it happens. “Elevate your language,” Li said. “You’re really strengthening your commitment through the way you talk to yourself and others about your plans.”
Set an alarm for an hour before bedtime. When it goes off, it’s time to start your bedtime routine. Think of this as your “power-down hour,” said Lauri Leadley, a clinical sleep educator and president of Valley Sleep Center in Arizona. Turn off your electronics and dim the lights in your home. Then do something relaxing, like taking a warm shower. When you emerge from the hot water, your body temperature will drop, which helps kick-start the production of sleep-promoting melatonin, Leadley said.
Turn off autoplay on streaming services. Harris understands what it’s like to get trapped in the autoplay vortex, when one episode rolls into another, and then another. Preempt that by disabling the feature. Then, when one episode ends, you’ll have to make a conscious decision about whether you want to continue watching. “You have to actually say to yourself, ‘I’m going to choose to lose sleep by watching another one,’ ” Harris said.
Practice breath work. Recline in a comfortable spot, close your eyes and relax your face. Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose, and “gently exhale through softly pursed lips,” Leadley said. Repeat three times. Then inhale to four, and slow your exhaling breath to a count of eight. “Breath is powerful and healing, and it will definitely help you sleep better — and deal with that [desire] to procrastinate at bedtime,” she said.
Angela Haupt is a freelance writer and editor. Follow her on Twitter @angelahaupt.
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