Self

Here’s Why You Stay Up Late Even When You Really, Really Shouldn’t

A doctor explains what’s behind the urge.

A person lies in bed scrolling through their phone. Revenge bedtime procrastination can feel like you're resting, but you're also losing out on sleep.
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You’ve finally cleared your inboxes — both your work and personal accounts — and your exhausted body is screaming for sleep. But your mind insists that it’ll be “just one episode of Ginny and Georgia to relax before bed.” When you find yourself losing precious hours of sleep as a result, you might groan and wonder why you won’t just go to bed when you’re tired. Revenge bedtime procrastination is what happens when you unwind at night by staying awake (think: Netflix or Animal Crossing) instead of actually going to sleep.

Even when you’re at your most exhausted, sometimes the night just calls to you. “It’s not Instagram that gets me,” says Jayson, 26. “It’s baking shows. Put on the Spring Baking Championship and I’ll be up all night. It’ll relax me at first, but suddenly it’s two in the morning and I’m more exhausted than I would have been if I’d just gone the heck to sleep in the first place.”

What Is Revenge Bedtime Procrastination?

Even if you haven’t had the words for it, you can probably recognize yourself in this method of relaxing awake instead of grabbing some zzz’s. “Revenge bedtime procrastination is putting off much-needed sleep because you’re trying to squeeze in any semblance of recreation in your life,” says Dr. Vivek Cherian, M.D., a Baltimore-based internal medicine physician.

Jayson agrees with this logic. “I have fun watching my shows,” they explain. “I guess I’d feel better after sleeping, but I’m just not emotionally ready for my day to end right after work.”

Of course, everyone engages with their bedtime rituals in unique ways. But Dr. Cherian tells Bustle that sacrificing sleep for relaxing time makes sense given the way people in the U.S. are socialized. “From childhood, most of us have been conditioned to consider television a ‘treat’ or ‘reward,’ and so after a long and taxing day, it’s arguably logical almost to ‘treat’ yourself to Netflix over much-needed rest,” he explains.

When Syd, 33, stays up past the time they should go to bed, they know it’s largely out of spite. “I kind of want to tell capitalism to shove it,” they say. “The economy doesn’t own me or my leisure time, but the only hours I get to spend away from that money-making grind is usually at night. But yeah, then I just don’t sleep. Still trying to figure that out.”

How Does Revenge Bedtime Procrastination Impact Your Sleep?

While there’s definitely nothing wrong with playing Pokémon Cafe in and of itself, using technology to unwind before bed can mess with your sleep cycle. “Most video games tend to draw you in and engage you,” Dr. Cherian tells Bustle. “Instead of helping you unwind before bedtime to prepare for a restful sleep, they reactivate areas of your brain and therefore can cause sleep to be even further delayed.”

What’s the big deal about missing out on sleep? “Long-term sleep deprivation can increase your risk for diabetes, heart disease, and also even prevents your immune system from performing at peak efficiency,” Dr. Cherian says. “It is not a coincidence that when you feel under a lot of stress you are more prone to getting sick, which probably is not the best thing during a global pandemic.” He adds that when you’re sleep-deprived, you might experience more memory issues, difficulty concentrating, mood swings, and a tougher time with depression and anxiety.

How Can You Avoid Revenge Bedtime Procrastination?

No matter the reason you’re not getting enough sleep, Dr. Cherian says the lack of shut eye is not good for your body and mind. But there are some nighttime activities that might be more conducive to sleeping than others. “If you’re able to reframe relaxation to include activities like reading, meditation, and breathing exercises in lieu of television or video games, then you’ve definitely started on the right path to getting a good night’s sleep,” he explains.

“My boyfriend acts like an old man and reads magazines before he falls asleep,” Jayson says. “I like to tease him, but he gets a lot more sleep than I do.” That said, figuring out what works for you depends on your personality. For example, if you’re an avid reader, you might not want to start reading that 200,000 word slow burn enemies-to-lovers fanfic right before bed — you’ll definitely be up until dawn. A crossword puzzle (with pen and paper!) might be more your speed. Find a nighttime activity that will unwind you and make you more likely to actually fall asleep at bedtime.

Not sure you have the time for all that? “If you aren’t finding the time to have quality time with yourself, then schedule out fun until you figure out how to easily incorporate it into your day,” Dr. Cherian advises. “Take mindful breaks earlier on in the day.” In other words, think about what makes you feel relaxed and plan to integrate it into your daily routine, instead of tacking it on when you’re about to go to bed.

If you know you want to make time to unwind with Gilmore Girls, try watching an episode in the daylight instead of accidentally marathon-watching at night. “When I get my Lorelai Gilmore time in on my lunch break instead of before bed, I definitely sleep more,” Syd says. Because for better or worse, you’re less likely to drop everything in the middle of the work day for a marathon — but you may be pretty likely to watch four episodes before bed and see the sunrise before you know it.

Experts:

Dr. Vivek Cherian, M.D., Baltimore-based internal medicine physician