Revenge bedtime procrastination

Thursday, March 18, 2021

The term ‘Revenge Bedtime Procrastination’ originates from China where people can work a ‘996’ schedule, working 9am to 9pm, 6 days a week. However, it’s a behaviour that many of us may recognise. The concept is that people sacrifice sleep in order to create personal time, staying up late online, reading news, watching videos, whatever activity they feel counts as personal time.

For people in fairly restrictive jobs, or with children to look after, this time when they could be sleeping, may be the only time in the day they get to themselves to do what they want. Often there are things other than sleep to do, even though people know that staying up rather than going to bed isn’t good for them (hence revenge).

Other people, particularly at risk of this behaviour, are parents and carers who have little time purely for themselves during the day; workers who feel it is difficult to switch off and not check their emails; students with lots of work to do or during exam seasons; couples who are shift workers on opposing patterns, trying to eke out some time together or to fill the time, and stay awake, until their partner gets home.

This feeling of being ‘always at work’, and your time not being your own is particularly challenging if you have work emails on devices such as your own phone, or a work phone, and particularly working from home, where it is difficult to draw boundaries between work and home.


Why do people do this?

Psychological evidence points to the importance of having time away from the pressures of work – being able to detach from work is essential for our wellbeing, and for good sleep. The irony is that when we are working long hours, the time we need to detach from work eats into our sleep time.


Bedtime Procrastination 

Those of us lucky enough not to be working to a ‘996’ pattern, and with plenty of time to ourselves outside our working days, may still find ourselves delaying going to bed, procrastinating for no reason other than we find it difficult to stop what we’re doing. Studies have shown that people who procrastinate bedtimes are often, but not always, procrastinators in other areas of their lives too.

The decision to go to bed is usually made at the end of the day, when we have typically already used up a lot of our ‘self-control strength’, potentially making the decision to actively move off the couch and to get ready for bed more difficult. It doesn’t really seem to be about avoiding something perceived as unpleasant (like doing your taxes or studying), as many people like going to bed and sleeping, but rather stopping doing something else that seems to be the problem – e.g. pausing the TV show to come back to tomorrow, or reading to the end of the chapter of the book.

Bedtime procrastination can directly cause people to not get enough sleep, as their wake-up time in the morning is often externally set, for example, to wake up for work, or because the children or other family members are awake.

It is also possible that the relationship is the other way round and that people who get less sleep are more likely to put off going to bed in the evening because they prefer to do what they are doing, rather than lie in bed awake.

For further information and advice on sleep and sleep-related wellbeing see our publications page: