Picture this: You know it’s 10 p.m. You know you have an early alarm set. And yet, you can’t just call it a night, instead choosing to doomscroll on your phone, catch the next episode of your current favorite show, or finish that really good book.
The good news? You’re not alone. In a poll of almost 32,000 people conducted by SleepScore Labs, 72% of participants admitted to using electronic devices before bed every night.
The bad news: This habit is known as revenge bedtime procrastination, which describes the act of staying up late to regain a sense of freedom and control over your time, even against your best instincts, and it can have a real impact on your sleep habits.
What is revenge bedtime procrastination?
Revenge bedtime procrastination, also known as revenge sleep procrastination, was popularized in 2020 by writer Daphne K. Lee, who noticed it had become widespread in China in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to offset (or get revenge against) new constraints like quarantine and masking.
The idea of bedtime procrastination wasn’t created by COVID-19 — in fact, one of the first studies on the topic was conducted back in 2015 — but the pandemic definitely exacerbated the spread and frequency of the habit. “During the pandemic, a lot of people’s routines went out the window. Many of us had more flexibility in when and how we can work, so the external boundaries of when we go to bed and when we get up got blurry,” says Jade Wu, Ph.D., a psychologist, Sleep.com sleep advisor, and board-certified behavioral sleep medicine specialist. “Also, many of us felt isolated during the pandemic and turned to social media — even more than usual — to feel connected with others.” Cue the late-night texting and doomscrolling sessions.
On top of the isolation and anxiety of the pandemic, certain demographic groups faced burnout and exhaustion, including people with kids. “For people who are parents, the parenting burnout that came along with the pandemic also pushed us to seek refuge in the couple of precious hours we could get to ourselves at night,” Wu says.
Even though the pandemic has become more manageable over the past two years, with fewer restrictions to necessitate seeking that additional time at night, revenge bedtime procrastination has become a part of the societal fabric at this point. According to research by Data.ai, time spent on smartphone apps in the United States increased 30% from 2019 to 2021, and since work schedules, childcare, errands, and other tasks can make it hard to find downtime by day, much of that tune-out time on the phones ends up happening at night, including just before bed. “It’s a hard habit to break, because it’s part of a vicious cycle where the less well rested we are, the less we are able to cope with the challenges of the day,” says Wu. “And the harder our days feel, the more we are drawn to the temporary satisfaction of revenge bedtime procrastination at night.”
SleepScore Labs’ results reflect this trend. The report evaluated participants who ranged in age from 17 to 90, and evaluated more than 1,287,000 nights of sleep, compiling a detailed look at how our habits of putting off bedtime can impact sleep.
How does revenge bedtime procrastination harm sleep?
While revenge bedtime procrastination gets talked about a lot, its impact on sleep has not been totally clear. But new data from SleepScore Labs sheds light on the habit, including how it affects sleep quality and who is most likely to engage in the behavior.
While revenge sleep procrastination looks different for everyone, the quantifiable definition for this data sets revenge bedtime procrastination as going to bed 30 minutes or more after your goal bedtime.
Who is most likely to engage in revenge bedtime procrastination?
SleepScore Labs’ data found that revenge bedtime procrastinators are more likely to be evening chronotypes, which are people for whom their genetic circadian rhythm gives them surges of energy at night — when everyone else is asleep (or, in this case, supposed to be asleep).
The math here checks out, according to Wu. “Evening chronotypes already have a hard time going to bed at a ‘conventional’ time due to their biological hardwiring,” she says. So it makes sense that they’re less drawn to bed and more inclined to push back their bedtime. “In fact, they should be going to bed later — and waking up later — in their ideal world,” she adds.
Does revenge bedtime procrastination shorten the amount of sleep you get?
Pushing off your bedtime can indeed mean less sleep each night. SleepScore Labs found that those who engage in revenge bedtime procrastination do not catch up on the sleep they’ve missed during revenge bedtime procrastination. Further, they to get less overall sleep than their on-time counterparts, even on the weekends, and the more minutes of bedtime procrastination, the shorter the overall sleep time.
According to the data, those with the shortest amount of revenge bedtime procrastination (going to bed between 30 minutes before the desired bedtime and 30 minutes after the desired bedtime) got the most sleep, at nearly six hours per night on weekdays. Those who delay by 30 to 90 minutes notch five hours and 40 minutes, and that sleep time diminishes as procrastination time increases, with the severe revenge bedtime procrastinators — meaning those who go to bed between 4.5 and 5.5 hours after their goal bedtimes — sleeping a smidge over five hours per night, meaning their procrastination can sometimes last longer than the sleep they actually get.
If you’re wondering whether that sleep is made up for on weekends, SleepScore Labs found surprising results: The most severe revenge bedtime procrastination participants only added 30 minutes of sleep on weekends, with those who had minimal revenge bedtime procrastination catching an additional 22 minutes of sleep; the middle zones of procrastination (90 minutes or longer) tended to catch an additional 40 minutes of sleep on weekends.
How does revenge bedtime procrastination impact wake-up times?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, every category of revenge bedtime procrastinator woke up later on weekends than weekdays, with the time difference increasing based on how many hours of procrastination you notched the night before. Those with no or minimal revenge sleep procrastination (-30 to 30 minutes) woke up 51 minutes later than weekday wake-up times, and the times tick up for each corresponding level of procrastination, topping out with those who procrastinate on bedtime by 4.5 to 5.5 hours. That group tended to wake up an average of 2:09 later, moving from 6:51 a.m. to 9 a.m. So, they’re waking up late, but also getting less sleep, which is a lose-lose situation if you have brunch plans in your future.
Finally, the SleepScore Labs findings also show that the later we push back our bedtime, the worse our sleep quality is, which is objectively measured as a SleepScore. The control group of those who go to bed within 30 minutes of their goal bedtime ranked highest in SleepScore, with 79 on weekdays, notching up to 81 on weekends. The score decreased with longer periods of delay, with scores of 71 and 72 for those who delayed bedtime for 2.5 to 5.5 hours. On weekends, those scores ticked up from two to four points, ranging from 81 for the control group to 75 for those with the longest procrastination timing.
That weekend sleep-in time, or social jetlag, doesn’t balance out lost sleep during the week. One possible reason for this is good, old-fashioned stress. “It’s possible that people who are engaging in more revenge bedtime procrastination are doing so because they’re feeling more burned out in general,” Wu explains. “This generally high level of stress leads to worse sleep.”
Revenge bedtime procrastination can affect your sleep in a number of ways, none of which will help you feel more well rested or energetic in the morning — even if it does feel satisfying in the moment. It goes beyond feeling tired and drained, too, since poor sleep can lead to lower immune function, high blood pressure, and even a smaller social network. Fortunately, there are things you can do to slow its roll.
How to avoid revenge bedtime procrastination
For starters, it helps to address the ways in which you feel out of control or restricted during the day, which might minimize the temptation to “regain control” by procrastinating. “Try your best to take care of your physical and emotional needs during the day,” says Wu. “Even a couple of minutes of mindful breathing, stretching, or fresh air between tasks can be helpful.”
Another trick is setting an alarm to wind down just as you set a wake-up alarm. “Set yourself a wind-down reminder well before bedtime, and even if you don’t go to bed then, use that time to get out of your head and into your body with some stretching, a leisurely bath, or another slow activity,” Wu says. That way, you’ll still feel like you took some time for yourself without having to push back bedtime. Sleep neurologist and Sleep.com sleep advisor Dr. Chris Winter shares that some of his clients even set timers that turn off all the lights in the house or power down the TV as a forceful nudge to get to bed.
Resist the siren call of social media, which can put you into autopilot. “Since social media is designed to keep us scrolling, it can make revenge bedtime procrastination even more tempting,” Wu says.
What can also help is picturing how the next day will go. If you know that you have a busy day ahead of you, it might convince you to prioritize your productivity over liking your best friend’s vacation pics or catching up on the latest celebrity drama. Whether that involves checking your work schedule or glancing at the family calendar, it’s worth the extra step, in part because it can have a big payoff — for instance, if you can get more done tomorrow, you could end up with more time for yourself in the evening without having to procrastinate before bed.
If nothing has helped so far, you can also consider talking to a professional about it. A new study in Behavioral Sleep Medicine determined that cognitive behavioral therapy techniques (which may also help with insomnia) could lead to a 64% reduction in bedtime procrastination duration — not to mention better sleep efficiency and feeling more refreshed in the morning.
It’s true that revenge bedtime procrastination — and the many factors behind it — is complicated, and it can be hard to just shut things off and call it a night. But now that we know the full scope of its impact with the data from SleepScore Labs, there’s no question that it’s worth going the extra mile to put yourself (and good, sound sleep) first.