Sleep & Mornings

How I Beat “Revenge Bedtime Procrastination” and Got My Life Back

If you find yourself prioritizing leisure over sleep by scrolling through your newsfeed or watching just one more episode during prime sleep hours, then you might be engaging in revenge bedtime procrastination. It tends to happen when our days are filled to the brim with work, taking care of family, and other responsibilities. Here’s how I got sucked into it, and how I took back control.

I am surprisingly efficient and unusually productive these days. There are no out-of-office appointments on my work schedule, no friends to see on my social calendar. I save hours a week on grooming, since Zoom never shows how dirty my hair really is and yoga pants are always a perfect fit. But it wasn’t always like this.

In truth, I almost ran off the rails a month into the pandemic. Unlike many of my colleagues, I was faring well with the novelty and newness of the pandemic, until I fell into a trap that’s become familiar to many. The trap? It is called “Revenge Bedtime Procrastination.”

What is Revenge Bedtime Procrastination?

I first heard this term used by Christine Li, Ph.D., my friend and procrastination coach. Revenge bedtime procrastination occurs when we try to wring the last bit of life out of the day. It hits me when I’ve been too hyperfocused on my work, at the expense of everything else. I don’t take breaks. I forget to eat lunch. Even a social call with a business colleague or friend seems taboo.

By evening, I’ve completed the last of my to-dos. No one is messaging me, my kids and husband are winding down, my kitchen is clean, and my dog is curled up in her bed. There are no distractions. Those delicious hours between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. are my reward for a day well done. The last thing I want to do is give them up and go to bed, so I inadvertently engage in a little revenge bedtime procrastination.

What My Revenge Bedtime Procrastination Looks Like

When my daughter introduced me to “Love Island,” I rolled my eyes at the British reality series and asked why anyone would give up sleep for this twaddle. Fast forward one week and I was 12 episodes into a midnight-to-2:30 a.m. habit.

[Click to Read: 9 Sleep Deprivation Solutions for Adults with ADHD]

The last straw was when I caught myself in the bathroom mirror. After completing several Zoom sessions, I saw that I was wearing a blouse, a chunky necklace, and pajama bottoms! I had slept through my alarm and showed up half-dressed.

I had fallen into a pattern of getting up later, working out later, staying up later, and feeling less than great. It dawned on me that digging myself out of the bedtime procrastination hole was going to take a lot more energy than staying out of the hole to begin with!

Putting a Stop to Revenge Bedtime Procrastination

I may not need a lot of sleep, but I do need it – it’s the one thing that affects everything else in my life: mood, energy, workouts, focus, productivity, motivation, how I look, and how I feel.

The next night, I went to bed at 11 p.m., and I was up before my 6 a.m. alarm. I was done with my work out by 7:30. At my desk by 8:30.

[Read: How to Fall Asleep with a Rowdy, Racing ADHD Brain]

I was not starting my morning trying to catch up. I was ahead of it and on my game. That one choice, to sleep, gave structure to my entire day. Once I had that realization and saw how much better I felt, it was clear that bedtime procrastination was taking revenge on me. Yes, I loved that delicious time between midnight and 2:30 am. But starting my day running to catch the train didn’t feel half as good as did driving it.

So how did I get myself into bed on time? I made it as simple as possible. First, I negotiated a midnight curfew with myself. If it were earlier, I knew I wouldn’t stick to it. Then, I drew a bright line using my Apple watch alarm (any phone will do). I set one alarm for 11:55 p.m. and a second one for midnight. At 11:55, like Cinderella, I get my one and only warning that it’s time to head home from the ball. My challenge is to get up, turn off the lights, and walk to the bedroom before midnight. Bright lines, games, and streaks are especially effective for me. I now know when I need to get into bed and how I’m going to do it.

Your best schedule may not look like mine. After all, our ADHD brains are wired differently. Still, if you’re feeling worse than you’d like to feel, check your sleep first and whether you’re engaging in revenge bedtime procrastination. Also, stay away from “Love Island.” It’s not worth it.

Revenge Bedtime Procrastination: Next Steps

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