Are You Revenge Procrastinating? What That Means For Your Mental And Emotional Health

By Jaimee Marshall··  8 min read
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We all need a break sometimes, but our increasingly busy lives can make that impossible. We’ve come a long way from the barbaric 16-hour workday, but even in today’s modern society, work is continually encroaching on our free time.

With more people working from home since the pandemic, it can be difficult to find the separation between work and leisure time. No matter what your situation is, lacking free time can lead to revenge procrastination, or more specifically, revenge bedtime procrastination. This is when you intentionally delay or sacrifice time that should be spent sleeping to fit in some leisure time that you aren’t getting during the day due to your busy schedule. 

What Is Revenge Procrastination?

Bedtime procrastination was studied in the Netherlands in 2014, and the study found that it was a psychological phenomenon present in people who did not have enough time in their day to do the things that they wanted so they intentionally delayed sleep without any external factors causing them to do so. The “revenge” aspect was added in 2016 in China to express the desire to take back control during the night to get “revenge” on the lack of me-time during the day – even to the detriment of your overall sleep and causing negative effects. It’s understandable why this term became popularized in China, where people abide by a 72-hour work week that seldom leaves any time for personal entertainment or recuperation. The normalized work schedule of working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. 6 days a week in China is so common that it’s earned the nickname “996.”

When we lack adequate time in our lives to do the things we want, whether it’s pursuing hobbies, watching TV, or taking a relaxing bath and reading a book, it shouldn’t come at the expense of your sleep. When you start to rack up a sleep debt, it becomes increasingly difficult to make it up. When you’ve accumulated enough missing hours of sleep, you run the risk of developing symptoms associated with sleep deprivation. You’ll have difficulty concentrating, feel irritable, be less productive, and increase your risk of serious health conditions. 

The revenge aspect has to do with feeling stressed out with how little time you have for yourself.

The revenge aspect has to do with feeling stressed out or dissatisfied with how little time you have for yourself, so you choose to get revenge by cutting into your much-needed eight hours of sleep. However, you’ll ultimately feel even more stressed out and be more prone to anxiety and depression if you lose quality sleep regularly. If your job doesn’t enable you to take any time for yourself, consider if you’re even in the right place. There are plenty of jobs out there that don’t require you to act as a machine that does nothing but work and sleep. 

The Consequences of Sacrificing Sleep

Humans have biologically adapted to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. This amount of sleep isn’t really optional and each time you intentionally fail to meet this sleep requirement, you accumulate a sleep debt, which is the difference between the amount of sleep you’re getting and how much you need. Some crucial physiological processes occur during sleep, including cell repair and regrowth, energy conservation, emotional regulation, and memory function. There’s still a lot we don’t know about sleep, but the effects of failing to get enough of it have been well documented. Lack of sleep can negatively affect your immune system, increasing your risk for serious conditions like diabetes, hypertension, stroke, heart disease, mental health issues, and dementia. Lack of sleep also raises cortisol levels which can cause anxiety and depression, contribute to inflammation, and interfere with weight loss.

It may seem like no big deal to miss an hour of sleep, but one hour of sleep debt each night accumulates quickly, and before you know it, you’re never able to make it up. Losing just one hour of sleep can take up to four days to make up. I’m guilty of constantly making excuses for my late bedtime with utterances like “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” but the truth is, if you consistently neglect sleep, you might be in an eternal slumber much sooner than intended – that’s because sleep deprivation shortens your lifespan. Sleeping less than 6 hours a night greatly increases your risk for heart problems, so if you’re going to sacrifice anything, it should be your workload, not your sleep.

How To Stop Revenge Procrastinating 

There are two associations with revenge procrastination, the first being that those with lower self-control are more likely to engage in all forms of procrastination, including sleep. The second association is that people have different sleep chronotypes and those who are predisposed to being “night owls” have a natural difficulty sleeping and waking at certain times. However, there’s limited research in this area of study and it’s a relatively new topic of interest. What you can do to prevent the endless cycle of revenge procrastination involves taking steps to set a ritual or routine around bedtime that gets you in the habit of going to sleep. The other thing you can do is evaluate your priorities and determine if the current situation that‘s placing you in the position of choosing between free time and sleep is really serving you. 

Creating a bedtime routine is a common piece of advice when it comes to going to sleep earlier. However, did you know that your bedtime routine actually begins in the morning? To properly regulate your circadian rhythm, you should be exposing yourself to sunlight first thing in the morning. The sun regulates our hormones and sleep cycle. We have cones in our retina that respond to sunlight, causing us to feel awake and alert when we are exposed to the morning sun. This sun exposure helps us regulate important sleep hormones, as we secrete more melatonin once the sun goes down and this causes us to feel sleepier once it gets dark. The sun is also a great source of vitamin D which also plays a role in regulating your sleep cycle. Working inside all day and avoiding sunlight is really harmful to your circadian rhythm, which is synced to the rising and the setting of the sun. You should set time aside to go for a walk outside or just stand outside in the sun for about 30 minutes each day. If you’re having difficulty falling asleep earlier, this will make a big difference in when your body naturally wants to go to sleep.

To properly regulate your circadian rhythm, you should expose yourself to sunlight first thing in the morning.

It’s also good to create a consistent routine that conditions your brain to know that it’s time to go to sleep. Create a bedtime routine and do it every night at the same time. Maybe this involves washing your face, brushing your teeth, reading a book for 20 minutes, and then meditating. It can contain as many or as few steps as you want, but it needs to be manageable and be performed every single night. Along with a consistent bedtime routine, you want to be consistent with your sleep and wake times. 

You should also know how to eat before bed and when to stop using electronics. Our devices emit blue light that disrupts our circadian rhythm by suppressing melatonin and shifting the circadian rhythm. By using your phone right before sleep, you could be causing yourself to stay awake for three hours longer. Devices that use blue light include smartphones, TVs, computers, tablets, and even certain lightbulbs. You should stop exposing yourself to blue light about two to three hours before you want to go to sleep. Setting a timer can help to remind you and hold you accountable. 

Additionally, when trying to set up a better nighttime routine, go easy on the alcohol. Many think a glass of wine or two helps them fall asleep, but when looking at the whole picture, this habit actually winds up disrupting their sleep. A glass of red wine can indeed help you fall asleep sooner, but it will negatively affect your sleep quality and cause you to continually wake up throughout the night. Caffeine is another thing that can negatively affect sleep quality, as it blocks the production of adenosine, an important brain chemical that causes you to feel sleepy. You shouldn’t consume more than 400mg of caffeine in a day, and you should impose a caffeine cutoff time to ensure it doesn’t impact your sleep. Caffeine has a long half-life, so it’s recommended that you stop consuming it six hours before you plan on going to sleep. You should also avoid overeating or consuming high-sugar foods right before bed. Regularly exercising plays a role in regulating your sleep cycle as well. Anecdotally, I always feel like I can sleep better when I’ve done a workout that day. However, experts recommend against doing intense workouts right before bed. 

Closing Thoughts

When we procrastinate doing work or meeting a deadline that requires fulfilling obligations for someone else, we feel guilty about doing it. However, when it comes to our own wellbeing, such as ensuring we get enough quality sleep, for whatever reason, we’re less likely to hold ourselves accountable. Think about the implications of this behavior – it suggests that keeping promises to other people is more important than keeping promises to ourselves.

If you feel like revenge procrastination is sabotaging your mental or physical health, it’s best to begin by looking inward and asking yourself what changes you can make today that can improve the overall quality of your life.

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  Mental Health  Wellness
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