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Revenge Bedtime Procrastination: Origins, Signs and Impacts

Jan 6, 2023

After a long tiring day, your body and brain need to go straight to bed and sleep until morning, but another part of you also wants to relax and binge-watch a show. The sadistic binge watcher in us often wins out, taking revenge on the hard working part of us that deprived us of relaxation during the day. This phenomenon is known as revenge bedtime procrastination (from the Chinese term “bàofùxìng áoyè” literally “revenge stay up all night”) and is rather problematic. Not only is it a problem because it causes sleep issues but it also indicates that there’s an issue with the way the rest of one’s life is scheduled.

Revenge bedtime procrastination (RBT) is heavily skewed toward women who tend to take on the majority of housework and childcare as well as working normal jobs. The absence of leisure earlier in the evening creates a hunger for relaxation that is only satiated by watching multiple episodes of Grey’s Anatomy at 11 pm.

The term  “revenge bedtime procrastination” was popularised by journalist Daphne K Lee. She documented frustration related to working long stressful hours and having very little time for leisure or personal entertainment. In her words: "people who don't have much control over their daytime life refuse to sleep early to regain some sense of freedom during late night hours." 

RBT is pretty closely linked to general bedtime procrastination: the concept of cutting sleep hours and normal sleep patterns for reasons that don’t really make much sense if you look at it objectively: lack of motivation, resentment, and negative emotions.

People engaged in bedtime procrastination typically want to get enough sleep but fail to do so by staying awake an extra hour or so, which is also called the intention-behavior gap. The term is directly associated with self-discipline and impulse control or lack of self-control resources.

Most of us fall into this trap from time to time and it’s not necessarily a huge problem if it happens occasionally but if it’s happening every day, the consequences are rather dire. Either you don’t sleep enough and become a grumpy zombie for the rest of the day or you do get 8hrs sleep but wake up at 11 am and frustrate the hell out of your boss. Either way, you’re probably going to have difficulty with work, study, and relationships.

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Table of Contents

The Signs of Sleep Procrastination

Sleep procrastination or bedtime procrastination can be fairly easy to determine intuitively. However, if you like nerding out, there’s actually a “Bedtime Procrastination Scale”  by Kroese, et al, 2014.

For each of the following statements, please decide whether it applies to you using a scale from 1 (almost) never to 5 (almost) always.

  1. I go to bed later than I had intended.
  2. I go to bed early if I have to get up early in the morning (R).
  3. If it is time to turn off the lights at night I do it immediately (R).
  4. Often I am still doing other things when it is time to go to bed.
  5. I easily get distracted by things when I actually would like to go to bed.
  6. I do not go to bed on time.
  7. I have a regular bedtime which I keep to (R).
  8. I want to go to bed on time but I just don't.
  9. I can easily stop my activities when it is time to go to bed (R).

Add up your score for the questions (you have to reverse the score for questions marked R) to find out if your sleep procrastination is approaching pathological levels. The higher the total score, the more of a problem it is. Another study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health noted the following three criteria for people that engage in sleep procrastination.

1. Going to Bed Late

Going to bed relatively late is a sign of sleep procrastination. However, sometimes there are legitimate reasons for going to bed late. You might have caring responsibilities or an urgent work assignment might come up 

2. Awareness of Delay Sleep

The second criteria is that you are aware that you are choosing to delay sleep. You know you need to sleep, but you don’t sleep and the next day you regret it. If you wake up the next morning and don’t feel any remorse for staying up late, maybe it’s not actually a problem.

3. Lacking Reason to Stay Awake

The third criterion in the study basically says that for it to be a problem, the reason you choose for staying up late has to be bogus. If your environment is preventing you from going to sleep at a good time (e.g. there’s a fire alarm at 10pm), that’s one thing but if you know you should go to sleep by 10pm and you choose to hit play on another show on Netflix, that’s a choice. You’re aware it’s not a good path forward but you do it anyway. 

Impact of Revenge Bedtime Procrastination

Staying up late on a Friday night once a month is probably not going to cause much damage and may actually create some happy memories if you’re doing fun activities. However, staying up late every day of the week is going to mess you up pretty soon. The human body doesn’t cope well with sleep deprivation and our workplaces are generally not particularly accepting of people who wake up after midday. 

Sleep Deprivation and Deteriorating Health

Let’s harp on a bit more about the health impacts of sleep deprivation. According to NHLBI (National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute), as well as causing feelings of tiredness, sleep deprivation can lead to slower thinking, worsening memory, and increased stress and anxiety.

In the long run, it can increase the chances of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, a weaker immune system, depression, etc. It can also reduce the effectiveness of vaccines by slowly damaging immune function.

Consequences of Daytime Sleepiness

Getting insufficient sleep influenced by your sleeping environment can cause daytime sleepiness and negatively affect various areas of your life. It can worsen your quality of life, such as having trouble regulating emotions and mood.

Besides that, it can also affect productivity, which could result in a drop in academic and work performance. There is a high risk of driving while drowsy as well, leading to life-threatening repercussions.

Who Does Revenge Bedtime Procrastination Affect?

According to a study by Herzog-Krzywoszanska and Krzywoszanski, women and students are most likely to be affected by revenge bedtime procrastination or revenge sleep procrastination.

For some people, what looks like RBT might actually be the way their bodies want to work. There is a certain subset of the population whose mental alertness peaks in the evening: evening chronotypes/wolves. If this is really you, maybe it’s not RBT but simply society judging you for the way your brain is wired. However, bear in mind that this chronotype is pretty rare (15% of the population). It could be that you’ve developed habits that make you look like a wolf (maybe we can call it the werewolf chronotype?) but you would actually function much better if you had a consistent sleep schedule.

According to Herzog-Krzywoszanska and Krzywoszanski, RBT is also more frequent among people who tend to procrastinate in almost every aspect of their life.

The Psychology of Revenge Bedtime Procrastination

While it's not easy to pinpoint when the term "revenge bedtime procrastination" was first used, people consider a blog post on Zhihu dated November 2018 as the earliest.

In the post, the man mentions he "belonged to someone else" during workdays and finds himself only after getting home. While he mentions that RBT and sacrificing sleep is detrimental to his physical and emotional health, he sees some positives as he got a bit of freedom at least.

Even though the term revenge sleep procrastination originated in China, its rapid spread around the global blogosphere is a sign that overworked workers and people with high-stress jobs worldwide are willing to sacrifice sleep quality to get some precious hours of personal time, despite knowing its negative consequences.

In a 2019 sleep survey with feedback from 12 countries, 62% of adults globally claimed not getting enough sleep, of which 37% blamed their school or work schedule. In 2020, the National Bureau of Statistics and the state media CCTV reported that an average Chinese employee has only 2.42 hours every day when they are not asleep or at work, which is a decrease of 25 minutes from 2019.

Additionally, during stay-at-home orders in the pandemic, employees found their working hours extended, contributing to 40% of people having sleeping problems and increased chances of revenge sleep procrastination.

Gu Bing, a 33-year-old, works at a digital agency as a creative director in Shanghai and is used to working late hours, considering sleeping before 2 am as an early night. Even though she claims that she loved late nights during her 20s, she wants to adopt normal and good sleep habits for her well-being. However, Gu Bing mentions that her friends are also awake till late like her. She says, "I really need that time. I want to be healthy, but they [the employers] stole my time. I want to steal back my time."

The 28-year-old video game analyst, Jimmy Mo, has basically turned his hobby into his job and he loves to sacrifice his leisure time for it. He also takes online classes to improve his professional skills, as well as singing and yoga as hobbies in his free time. So he typically doesn’t go to sleep until 2 am. However, even though he is aware that he can get better sleep and improve his health, peer pressure leads him to want to achieve and do more.

A work psychology lecturer at the Management School of Sheffield University, Ciara Kelly says that modern working patterns are another big problem apart from the office's long hours, as it makes it harder for people to set boundaries between home and work.

Instant messaging and emails make it possible for employers to always be in touch, but with a downside where employees can feel like they are "always at work" as they can get a call from work anytime.

Not being able to detach from work pressure can affect a person mentally and physically, leading to stress and burnout. As Ciara Kelly points out "one of the most important parts of recovery from work is sleep. However, sleep is affected by how well we detach." So it is no wonder people are willing to sacrifice a good night's sleep for post-work leisure time.

How to Prevent Bedtime Procrastination?

RBT is a powerful foe but it can be vanquished with the right techniques. What works for other people might not work for you so you’ll probably need to try a few different approaches (probably not all of them at once though!). Here are some techniques that might help.

1. Maintain a Bedtime Routine

Having a pre-bedtime routine or sleep schedule can prevent spiraling down the procrastination route. It can be brushing your teeth, doing exercise or gentle stretches, reading a book, etc.

Anything that's calming, simple, and enjoyable enough to be pleasant to repeat every day is ideal. The goal is to form a regular wake-up time and keep up the same routine every night until it becomes a habit.

Focus Bear’s habit routine feature can help you set your preferred evening or nighttime routine and make sure you live up to your commitments. It even blocks distractions on your tech devices to make it easier to wind down.

2. Finish All Necessary Tasks before Bedtime

If you have chores you usually do before going to bed, such as taking a hot shower, doing the dishes, etc. then don't procrastinate until right before going to bed. It’s easy to be optimistic about how long these tasks will take. Better to do them earlier in the evening so it doesn't interfere with your sleep habits.

3. Avoid caffeine and Sugar Before Bedtime

Consuming caffeine, sugar, or alcohol before bed can make you restless and make it difficult to fall asleep. It is suggested to avoid taking caffeine six hours before bedtime. People with insomnia might take sleep medicine such as melatonin or food rich in the amino acid tryptophan.

4. Avoid Taking Daytime Naps

Sleep loss due to long naps during the day can break your sleep foundation and slowly lead to sleep problems such as bedtime procrastination and sleep deprivation. Try not to take a nap longer than 30 minutes and avoid taking it closer to the end of the day.

5. Fix your Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene is essentially avoiding anything that doesn't promote sleep. Creating an environment conducive enough to sleep is the goal. As you get closer to your sleep time, reduce exposure to bright lights and blue lights. Make sure your sleep environment (pillow, blanket, mattress) is comfortable, as well as the room temperature.

6. Prevent Using Electronic Devices Before Bed

Scrolling through the internet and social media when trying to sleep can keep you awake beyond your typical bedtime instead by delaying REM sleep and keeping your mind engaged. With Focus Bear, you can set your computer and smartphone screen use time and go to sleep on time.


While resenting school and work for draining your leisure time is fair, revenge sleep procrastination and delaying sleep is really not the best way of retaliating. In the book, "Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams," the author and neurologist, Matthew Walker bluntly states, "the shorter your sleep, the shorter your lifespan."

If you need help decoupling from tech in the evening, Focus Bear is worth a try.

Jan 6, 2023

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