Revenge Sleep Procrastination: Are You Doing It and How to Stop

If you’re sacrificing sleep in order to snag some relaxation time after a long day, you might be revenge sleep procrastinating — and it could be harmful to your overall health.

Medically Reviewed
woman scrolling through phone at night
Experts say if you have to choose between sleep and downtime, getting plenty of slumber is just about always the right answer.Ivan Ozerov/Stocksy

Raise your hand if you've recently?thought: “There just aren't enough hours in the day.”

We've all been there, but some of us might feel this way more often than not. And if it’s getting in the way of your sleep it might be a problem.

You might wrap up a full day of work and decide to stay up an extra hour or two to veg out and watch Netflix, or scroll through social media. Before you know it, it’s past midnight and you have to wake up in just a few hours to start it all over again.

This practice is called revenge sleep procrastination. The National Sleep Foundation defines it?as “the decision to sacrifice sleep for leisure time that is driven by a daily schedule lacking in free time.” It generally involves:

  • A delay in going to sleep, which reduces your total sleep time for the night
  • No valid reason to stay up late, such as an underlying illness
  • Awareness that staying up too late can have negative consequences

Researchers have been studying the idea of sleep procrastination for the past several years, but the terms “revenge sleep procrastination” and “revenge bedtime procrastination” appear to be new. The “revenge” part of the term refers to the fact that you’re getting revenge on the lack of free time during the day.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, the term originated in China and the English translation has since been used across the globe, particularly recently as people have been stressed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Revenge sleep procrastination?occurs when you're stressed, typically because of work hours and you don't have enough time,” says Mohamed Sameen, MD, sleep specialist at the Sleep Disorders Center at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson, New York. “So you decided willfully to compromise your sleep time and use that for your own personal time.”

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Dr. Sameen says the colloquial term “revenge sleep procrastination” is relatively new, but the concept is something sleep experts are familiar with (though it’s worth pointing out it’s not a sleep disorder or any type of clinical diagnosis).

“People who are engaging in this, it seems, they're initially searching for relief and solace from a stressful day,” says Margie Sieka, PhD, manager of behavioral health services at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, Illinois. “It's sort of a quest to regain some of their freedom that they lost.”

We live in a hyperconnected world — thanks to cellphones, instant messaging apps, and the internet, Sameen says. “We're busy, and increasingly we have less and less time for ourselves.”

The problem became even more pronounced at the height of the pandemic last year as many people started working from home. “Without commute times, we're stretching our day to be even longer,” Dr. Sieka says — and in many cases, cutting out those unproductive moments we might otherwise use for downtime. “We wake up in the morning and go right to our computer to work.”

While taking time for leisure, relaxation, or self-care is usually a good thing for health well-being, if it habitually gets in the way of your sleep, it can certainly become detrimental to your overall well-being.

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Signs of Revenge Sleep Procrastination: Here’s How to Know if You’re Doing It

A lot of people who revenge sleep procrastinate are primarily seeking relief and solace from a stressful day, Sieka says. “It's sort of a quest to regain some of their freedom that they lost.”

You may even be doing it unintentionally.

The main sign you’re doing it is that you’re actively delaying your bedtime in favor of doing something else you find relaxing.

Who’s doing it? The concept of revenge sleep procrastination is still new, but there is some research on bedtime procrastination in general. An?article published September 2019 in Frontiers in Neuroscience,?for instance, found women and students were among the most likely to engage in bedtime procrastination. These groups reported sleeping later than they’d like and feeling fatigued during the day.

Bedtime procrastinators may have a tendency to procrastinate in other areas of their life as well, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Bedtime procrastination is also associated with lower self-regulation skills, which can be extra challenging at the end of the day, according to an?article published in Frontiers in Psychology. The researchers noted that bedtime procrastinators weren’t opposed to sleep — they just weren’t willing to quit other activities in order to get to bed.

Sameen says he’s seen this in patients in his own practice as societal pressures (in terms of work, family, and other responsibilities) continue to leave people with less free time and more stress. But he doesn’t consider it an epidemic. He says it’s most likely to affect people who have little time for themselves, perhaps because they work long hours, have long commutes, work more than one job, or juggle a full-time job and childcare.

“Women in general tend to experience more overall sleep disturbances (including sleep procrastination), which may be due in part to the stress of demanding schedules, including professional and household obligations,” Sieka says.

How Revenge Sleep Procrastination Affects Your Health

You might think that forgoing sleep in order to squeeze in some self-care — such as meditation — would be okay. But routinely staying up late and waking up early can lead to sleep deprivation, which can have negative long-term effects on overall health and well-being, Sieka says.

For this reason, Sieka says sleep should come first. “Self-care practices are really important and really vital to one's well-being, but doing it at a cost of sleep loss is not supporting our overall health,” she says.

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According to the Cleveland Clinic, not getting enough sleep can lead to:

  • Feeling fatigued the next day
  • Trouble staying alert
  • Impaired memory
  • Relationship trouble
  • Lower quality of life
  • Increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, heart failure, or stroke
  • Obesity
  • Depression
  • Impaired immunity
  • Lower sex drive
  • Premature skin aging

A healthy amount of sleep for adults is seven to nine hours each night, according to recommendations from the National Sleep Foundation.

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How to Break a Revenge Sleep Procrastination Habit

You’ll know revenge sleep procrastination has become a problem when you’re consistently compromising your sleep and feeling tired the next day.

“Some people say, ‘I wake up, I can function, but I cannot concentrate,’” Sameen says. “Some people feel fatigued the whole day.”

A good check: Sameen says ask yourself if you’d be able to watch a movie in the afternoon without falling asleep. “Most people who have sleep deprivation will say they nod off,” he says.

But breaking a revenge sleep procrastination habit can be easier said than done.

To get your sleep back on track:

  • Squeeze moments of relaxation into the day. “Sometimes we can't control when our day is going to end,” Sieka says. “So it's best to find some time during the day when you can have just a few moments to have that relaxation.” She suggests taking a 10-minute walk after a meeting or practicing some deep breathing exercises several times a day.
  • Start (and stick to) a relaxing bedtime routine. It’s important to relax before going to sleep. “But how and how long you relax is important,” Sameen says. Do it in a way that's not going to harm your sleep — and that’s not going to delay you from getting to bed or get in the way of you sleeping plenty of hours. You want to avoid stimulating screens (such as from your cellphone or TV) in favor of activities that promote sleep. “Maybe you can incorporate a bath because that's calming or you can use some aromatherapy before you go to sleep,” Sieka says.
  • Say ‘no’ to unnecessary tasks to free up time during the day. “Prioritize your tasks and delegate what you need to so you're not prolonging your day on the other end,” Sieka says.
  • Create a separation from home life and work life. “Setting up those boundaries is really important,” Sieka says. “Maybe you need to incorporate a fake commute of some sort so you're not going right into it right away.” Sameen adds that you also want to create space between where you sleep and where you work — and avoid working from bed at all costs.
  • Be consistent to break the habit. “Start small, praise yourself when things are going well, and also give yourself a break and be realistic in your expectations,” Sieka says. “It may not always go great. Don't get discouraged and get right back into it and continue working toward the change.”

The Bottom Line on Revenge Sleep Procrastination

If you are able to take an hour or two to wind down at the end of the day, great. “As long as you're getting your sleep, you're feeling refreshed in the morning, and you’re able to function during the day, that is what matters,” Sameen says.

But if it comes down to deciding whether to stay up and watch another episode on Netflix, do some other relaxing activity, or get to sleep, sleep should come first.

“Downtime is important — we know the body and the mind really need the space to relax and to restore,” Sieka says. “But what's key is creating opportunities to integrate downtime without sacrificing essential sleep because we know that we need sleep for optimal wellness. You need that sleep to recuperate and restore yourselves.”