By Daíthi Turner

It seems counterintuitive that sleep would fall victim to procrastination. In my experience, people have described my tendency to procrastinate as a kind of laziness. But we are a complicated lot, especially when it comes to sleep.  

Some of us proclaim we are night owls, enjoying the nighttime stillness and quiet, and finding it allows us to focus and feel calm. The lack of other activities frees us of “guilt”, removing chores and deadlines. 

The fact that staying up late is not ‘normal’ may also be liberating. A mini rebellion. However, this comes at a price. Anything that interferes with our sleep in the long term, by choice or otherwise, is problematic. 

Go To Bed Sleepy Head!

Sleep procrastination takes two main forms. The first, delaying going to bed by staying up, maybe watching television. The second happens while already in bed, by postponing falling asleep, frequently with the distraction of mobile devices. 

Sleep procrastination is different from insomnia, a sleep problem many are familiar with as it’s a willful act. The phenomenon’s intentional nature led to the word “Revenge” being added to the name in recent years.  

So what exactly is Revenge Bedtime Procrastination? 

Revenge Bedtime Procrastination? 

“Revenge bedtime procrastination describes the decision to sacrifice sleep for leisure time that is driven by a daily schedule lacking in free time.” according to Sleepfoundation.org. My big question is why we do feel unable to deal with this problem at its source rather than inflicting more pressure on ourselves in the long term for the short term high or feeling of control. 

A feeling of having a lack of control in our lives could be imagined or real, but in this case, it needs to be dealt with as it can cause serious issues. A reluctance to accept sleep may not be insomnia but merely an enjoyment of the calm hours while the world and the source of many of our anxieties are removed, temporarily at least. 

The obvious problem is that with less sleep, many day-to-day activities become more challenging. Stressors or issues can quickly become a self-defeating spiral leading to health and wellbeing issues. 

The “revenge” aspect seems to originate in China. Young workers there frequently voice their concerns about the infamous 996 work schedule, where they work 9 to 9, 6 days a week. The phrase may have originated in China but has a much wider resonance. 

It’s easy to see how leisure time or ‘me time’ can be increasingly difficult to find in a hectic schedule like this. However, even fewer work hours can still have a psychological effect, especially if other aspects of life are predetermined and controlled, like childcare etc. Sometimes, too much social activity on top of a deadline-heavy work-life can induce anxiety derived from the lack of choice.  

Even though you choose not to sleep, it is almost like the modern adult becomes a foot-stomping toddler when they discover the power of the word “no,”. We are exercising autonomy at the moment, for the moment, because we are free to do so.   

The Global Problem of Insufficient Sleep and Its Serious Public Health Implications report, published in 2019, shows that this type of sleep disruption needs further inspection. The stress and demands of modern life are unrelenting for many of us. 

The Effects of Diminished Sleep 

There are few aspects of our brain function and health that don’t rely on sleep. Sleep disruption can lead to increased stress, underlying pain, emotional issues, increased anxiety, and cognitive and memory deficits. Getting enough rest is crucial for all aspects of health. 

I don’t want to get too graphic, but there is an endless list of ailments affected by even some seemingly harmless sleep procrastination. If the causes are external, they should be identified and fixed, but it’s a lot easier to change your pillow than your job or your chosen lifestyle. 

Historical Control

This feeling of taking control through revenge in this aspect of our lives has global relevance and a historical one. There has been a long documented struggle for a shorter workday, and we owe lots to those people who fought for it.

In 1867 Karl Marx said of the labourer’s working day that “It reduces the sound sleep needed for the restoration, reparation, refreshment of the bodily powers…” The problem is still not solved as the 996 phenomenon shows. Taking revenge on sleep is as much counterproductive as it is counterintuitive. Too many of us feel that we do not have time to enjoy our days between working hours, running errands, and facing responsibilities. So, we unknowingly jeopardize our health through revenge sleep procrastination to grab some control and find time to unwind after a long day. 

Do yourself a favour, get to bed as early as you can and give yourself the best chance of enjoying a happier, healthier life.