How to Break the Exhausting Habit of Revenge Bedtime Procrastination
Revenge bedtime procrastination is an onerous name for a simple (and common) phenomenon: putting off sleep in favor of “me time” activities — often involving Netflix, social media, and next-day exhaustion. Here, learn more about this unhealthy sleep habit, why individuals with ADHD are particularly prone it, and strategies to break the cycle.
What Is Revenge Bedtime Procrastination?
Revenge bedtime procrastination is the act of deliberately putting off sleep in favor of leisure activities — binging Netflix or scrolling TikTok, for example — that provide short-term enjoyment but few long-term life benefits. Revenge bedtime procrastination is especially likely when busy schedules and daily responsibilities prevent the enjoyment of “me time” earlier in the day. (The idea is that you’re exacting “revenge” on all of life’s stressors and obligations by delaying sleep for leisure and entertainment.)
Of course, sacrificing sleep carries its fair share of consequences — namely exhaustion, poor productivity, health ramifications, and shame. In short, revenge bedtime procrastination is an unhealthy habit – and one that may be more common and troublesome for adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD).
Revenge Bedtime Procrastination: Origins, Signs, and Impact
Revenge bedtime procrastination is the approximate English translation of a Chinese expression for delaying sleep to regain freedom lost during the day. The term took off during the pandemic, as sleep problems and psychological distress collectively skyrocketed.1
Anyone can engage in revenge bedtime procrastination, but people with high-stress, busy lives and/or poor time-management skills might be more likely to put off sleep for personal time. That demographic is heavily skewed toward women, who as a group lost significant personal time during the pandemic as they took on a greater share of parenting and housework compared to men.2
Though a relatively new term, bedtime procrastination is not a new concept to researchers.3 The behavior – defined as going to bed late, absent of external reasons, and with an understanding that the delay will result in negative consequences – is conceptualized as a self-regulation problem.4 (You know what else is often described as a self-regulation problem? Yep, ADHD.)
Proper sleep is vital for functioning and overall health. That’s why inadequate sleep and poor sleep hygiene can contribute to a list of problems including:5
- impaired cognitive functioning (memory, focus, concentration)
- weakened immune system
- dysregulated metabolism
- emotional dysregulation
- anxiety and other mood disorders
- increased mortality6
Revenge Bedtime Procrastination and ADHD
Why might individuals with ADHD be particularly susceptible to revenge bedtime procrastination?
Sleep Problems and ADHD
Research shows that individuals with ADHD experience problems with virtually all aspects of sleep, including:
- difficulty falling and staying asleep7
- daytime sleepiness3
- Poor sleep quality and difficulty waking up8
ADHD is also associated with “increased eveningness” (preference for a later bedtime).9
Other Reasons Why Individuals with ADHD Engage in Revenge Bedtime Procrastination
- Self-regulation difficulties are central to ADHD, and cause a range of challenges – impulsivity, hyperfocus, dopamine-seeking behavior, problems with transitions, and more – that can lay the groundwork for revenge bedtime procrastination.
- Rumination. You might opt to do literally anything other rather than lie in bed trying to shut off an overactive mind.
- Stimulation. To avert boredom and regain control of the day, the ADHD brain may choose to forgo sleep for stimulation – and technology is the most accessible source of that stimulation.
- Time blindness. Individuals who struggle with time estimation and discrimination10 may not notice when it’s time to wind down for bed.
- ADHD medication. Sleep problems are one of the most common side effects of stimulant medication.11
Revenge Bedtime Procrastination: Strategies to Get to Bed
1. Reclaim your daytime hours
- Plan satisfying, tiring activities during the day and stick to a schedule that prioritizes them. This will make revenge bedtime procrastination less tempting.
- Prioritize yourself. We readily give away too much of our energy to others throughout the day. Learn to put yourself first consistently so you don’t feel so deprived at night.
2. Practice good sleep hygiene
- Follow a bedtime routine. Go to bed and wake up at around the same time, even on weekends. Consider changing your bedtime cue – set an alarm, write in a journal, do breathwork and mindfulness activities – to break out of the old routine. Take steps to streamline bedtime preparation, which will also decrease bedtime resistance.
- Avoid screens at least an hour before bed. Bright blue light exposure from electronic devices is similar to sunlight exposure, and it interferes with sleep.12
- Avoid naps during the day, especially if you have trouble falling asleep at night.13 Adenosine, a chemical linked to sleepiness, builds up when we’re awake and decreases as we sleep.14 Napping, therefore, may deplete the chemical we need to get a good night’s sleep.
3. Set your circadian clock
What we do when we’re awake is connected to how quickly we fall asleep, whether we can stay asleep, and how we feel when we wake up the next morning. That’s our circadian rhythm at work, or the body’s natural cycles that help control our daily schedules and regulate sleep. (Interestingly, ADHD is associated with delayed circadian rhythm.15)
Light and dark govern the circadian rhythm. Sunlight cues the body to wake. Darkness produces melatonin, which makes us sleepy. (That’s why it’s important to avoid screens at night.)
Make it a priority to incorporate early morning sunlight and sunsets into your days as natural sleep-wake cues.
5. Quiet your mind
If your mind is buzzing with thoughts and worries, write them in a journal. Consider it a “brain download.” Research shows that expressive writing can help improve sleep and reduce stress.18
6. Consider (or adjust) ADHD medication
Talk to your doctor about your sleep problems. Stimulants may help improve sleep in adults with ADHD. 19 At the same time, since medication may also contribute to sleep difficulties, talk to your doctor about adjusting the dose or trying another medication, especially if your sleep problems appeared after a new medication.
Putting It All Together: Changing Habits for Better Sleep
Habits are key to all behavior change, and a must for breaking out of the revenge bedtime procrastination cycle. To increase your chances of creating better sleep habits:
- Set your vision. Don’t try to overhaul your sleep schedule at once. Limit yourself to changing a small micro-habit to increase follow-through.
- Connect to your intention. Ask yourself, “Why do I want to get into bed at a certain time?” “Why do I want to stop engaging in revenge bedtime procrastination?”
- Apply effort to changing the micro-habit daily, consistently, and purposefully.
- Choose a word that encapsulates your intention, or the reward that comes with better sleep – joy, energy, calm, peace. Repeat this word to yourself as you’re getting ready for bed.
- What triggers positive emotion to get you into bed? If challenges excite you, turn your bedtime plan into a game (à la Cinderella, racing home before the last stroke of midnight). If humor does it for you, incorporate something funny into your routine.
- Believe in yourself and your ability to enact change whole-heartedly. Know that you will fight constantly against the identity that is connected to the old habit.
- Celebrate once you’re in bed. (But not in a way that will disrupt your sleep!) Focus on the happy, contented feeling of keeping your intention – it will drive you to do it all again the next day.
Revenge Bedtime Procrastination: Next Steps
- Download: Get Control of Your Life and Schedule
- Read: How to Change Habits — 4 Ways to Make New Behaviors Stick
- Read: “This Simple Sleep Formula Calms My Racing ADHD Brain”
The content for this article was derived, in part, from the ADDitude Expert Webinar titled, “Revenge Bedtime Procrastination: How Women with ADHD Can Break the Cycle of Delayed Sleep and Stress” [Video Replay & Podcast 382] with Christine Li, Ph.D., and Tracy Otsuka, JD, LLM, AACC, which was broadcast live on December 8, 2021.
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