‘Revenge Bedtime Procrastination’ Is Real, According to Psychologists
“Fun fact, did you guys know that there’s this thing called revenge bedtime procrastination,” she asks in a video that has now been viewed 13.6 million times. “Where people will refuse to sleep because they don’t have much control over their daytime life, so they will sleep very late at night, even if they’re super tired, because they just don’t want that free time to end at night, and they don’t want tomorrow to start?”
Haider’s video, bleakly relatable with its stark background and drained Starbucks cup, garnered millions of likes and tens of thousands of comments. “Okay, so it has a name” and “I do this” are common variants. “I feel personally attacked,” reads one comment liked more than 50,000 times.
Why do we do this?
Chel’sea Ryan, a clinical social worker and therapist at the Southwest Center for HIV/AIDS in Phoenix, says she has both personal and professional experience with this phenomenon. After a day of office work and an evening of caring for her kids, she would lose sleep in favor of unwinding, reasoning, “This is my only time to breathe, be human, be a woman.” But her late-night habit created an anxiety spiral that eventually resulted in panic attacks. She’s seen it in her patients too. “A lot of clients have kids, or multiple jobs, or home life isn’t that great,” she says. “So they’re picking and choosing times when they can really cater to themselves, and usually that’s at night.”
If we’re really going to cater to ourselves, why not do a few minutes of yoga, or drink tea, as we’ve been told to do 5,000 times by freakishly cheerful wellness influencers? Why fall face-first into our phones? “For many of us, when we finally put away all of our technology at the end of the night, it is the first time that we are left alone with our thoughts and feelings without any distractions,” says Shapiro. “If we’re afraid of what we may find, or—perhaps more commonly—know that we will be met with uncomfortable, complicated, or heavy thoughts or feelings, we are going to unconsciously try to avoid them. Engaging in the late-night scroll may be an attempt to either push off the flood of emotion that may hit us when we close our eyes, or to exhaust ourselves to the point that we instantly fall asleep and don’t have to think at all.”
Dark! Accurate! And, ultimately, Shapiro says, not going to work. “We’re trying to protect ourselves, but we forget that avoidance actually makes the emotions stronger and we enter into a cycle of late-night anxiety,” she says.
Why is this so much worse right now?
“Demands on our time have gotten higher during the work-from-home period of time, not lower,” Ashley Whillans, Ph.D., a researcher and behavioral scientist at Harvard Business School, tells Glamour. She’s been studying how people are using their time during the pandemic in five countries, including America—her group’s research found that women, especially mothers, are spending more time on childcare and household chores than fathers do. (Surprise, surprise.)
They also found that young women, particularly at the beginning of the pandemic, spent less time on leisure than their male counterparts. This may be because we have more demands on our time—maybe we’re parents, managing Zoom school, or scrambling to pay the bills with a second job, or doing the seemingly endless work of a job search, or simply allowing a 9-to-5 to balloon into an 8-to-6. “Our workdays last longer because there’s no clear separation of when we should stop,” Whillans says. This is not healthy. “Emotional detachment from work is hugely important for job satisfaction!” she says. “But the end-of-our-workday ritual has gone missing in the virtual environment.”