Recently a lot of articles have been popping up on Revenge Bedtime Procrastination. This concept spread like wildfire, mostly down to the fact that almost everyone can relate. So what is it?
Broadly speaking, Revenge Bedtime Procrastination is when we stay up late simply because we didn’t feel like we had enough free time to do the things we wanted to do during the day. Things like scrolling through social media, watching Netflix, or falling into a reddit hole. Things we shouldn’t really feel the need to do, but we still feel compelled to stay awake at night and sacrifice sleep over.
The term “Revenge Bedtime Procrastination”, or ‘bàofùxìng áoyè’, was initially popularised in China as many young people work increasingly gruelling schedules; literally translated it means “sleepless night revenge”.
So why do we do this? What are the long-term effects on our health, both physical and mental? How can we stop?
All solid questions. Let’s tackle them one at a time.
Why Do We Revenge Bedtime Procrastinate?
This may seem obvious, but in order to stay sane it’s incredibly important to have time to spare. This doesn’t mean time reserved for things like exercise, eating, showering, reading, or even socialising – I’m literally talking about time reserved for “doing nothing”. Time that isn’t planned out in any way, shape, or form. One thing I’ve noticed, after spending years having close to 100% control over managing my time, is that it’s so, so easy to underestimate this. You plan out your week, giving yourself time to work, time for all your hobbies, time to sort out life admin and chores and writing a weekly blog post; but you forget to give yourself time to waste.
This is a super easy thing to forget to do. After all, it’s probably technically the least important thing on your to-do list. If someone asks you to do a piece of work for them and your response is “no, sorry, I have plans to do nothing right now”, they may not be particularly understanding. If your dishes pile up for a week because you wanted to watch YouTube videos every day, your spouse may not be particularly understanding. And if you prioritise guilt-free time to spend browsing the internet over exercising or cooking your own meals or showering in the morning, it may end up not feeling particularly guilt-free.
Here’s the problem though: we do, literally, need this time. So if we don’t actively make time for “doing nothing” during the day, it is going to end up taking over our nights. And this can have far more catastrophic effects on our health than skipping any of the above.
The Effects of Regularly Missing Out On Sleep
It’s well-documented that regularly sleeping for less than 7-9 hours a night is seriously bad for our health. Effects of sleep deprivation include weight gain, difficulty concentrating and making decisions, being unable to control the emotional centres in the brain, a weakened immune system, and a higher risk of both physical and mental health issues, including diabetes, heart disease, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, even schizophrenia. Missing sleep can make us anxious, moody, and can even cause hallucinations and paranoia, leading to psychosis. 
Funnily enough, although we don’t feel comfortable turning down tasks or skipping meals in exchange for “recovery time”, we don’t seem to have any issues turning down sleep in favour of this time. This is incredibly misguided – but I think stems from a lack of understanding for the importance of sleep more than anything else. In popular culture, people who don’t sleep enough are often regarded as successful, hardworking, and passionate – in other words, people to emulate. Conversely, people who sleep a lot are often seen as lazy and unproductive members of society.
Fortunately, these attitudes are changing – with #1 Sunday Times bestseller Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep shifting the way we think about sleep, even Bill Gates had something to say on the matter:
Back in my early Microsoft days, I routinely pulled all-nighters when we had to deliver a piece of software. Once or twice, I stayed up two nights in a row. I knew I wasn’t as sharp when I was operating mostly on caffeine and adrenaline, but I was obsessed with my work, and I felt that sleeping a lot was lazy.
Does everyone really need seven or eight hours of sleep a night? The answer is that you almost certainly do, even if you’ve convinced yourself otherwise. In the words of Dr. Thomas Roth, of the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, “The number of people who can survive on five hours of sleep or less without impairment, and rounded to a whole number, is zero.”
But think about it – have you ever heard someone brag about how they’ve been working so hard that they’ve gone 3 days without food? Have you ever seen a portrayal of someone being such a workaholic that they can manage to keep themselves alive on only one glass of water per day? Have you ever called someone lazy for taking a toilet break? If the answer to the above questions is “no”, then a similar case applies to letting people get their nightly 7-9 hours of sleep.
So What Can We Do?
There are several solutions to this problem, both individually and collectively.
First of all, as an individual, I recommend the following: if you find yourself regularly missing out on sleep in order to relax, it means you’re carving out “relaxation time” from the wrong part of the day. And make no mistake: you categorically need that relaxation time. “I shouldn’t need to relax this much” doesn’t really fly as an excuse – if you are Revenge Bedtime Procrastinating, then you do need to relax that much, and the result of not admitting that to yourself will be reduced productivity, reduced creativity, and reduced efficiency.
In order to help each other out, I suggest catching yourself out if you find yourself thinking of someone as lazy for needing to rest, or pressuring a friend or colleague into working harder than they are, particularly if you don’t know how much they’re already fitting in as things stand.
Of course, there will be exceptions to both of these cases. There will be times where you need to push through, and where free time might be negatively affected as a result. The key thing here is to have a realistic idea of how sustainable this sort of extreme routine is; it might be that you can keep it up for a week, but not a month. Similarly, there will be times when pressuring someone else to do what they said they would do is necessary – it’s just something to be aware of. In order to change cultural attitudes towards sleep, we need to change cultural attitudes towards free time. We need to allow others to take time out without branding them as “lazy”.
After all, there are only a limited number of hours in the day. And if we can’t accept that people need time to themselves… well, they’re just going to take it anyway. But they’ll end up losing out on sleep or food rather than simply taking on slightly less work. As Ursula says: “Life is full of tough choices” – and sometimes, we need to make a choice. We need to decide where to prioritise our time, knowing that we may have to turn down or cancel something somewhere along the line. Let’s create an environment where it’s ok to rest, where it’s ok to sleep, and only then allocating time to work, volunteer, learn a new hobby, do chores, and run a side hustle.
Peace out, and happy resting! ✌🏻