The Surprisingly Common Habit That Could Be Sabotaging Your Health


For months I’ve been in a sleep deprivation cycle. Even after fighting exhaustion all day, I find myself staying up late only to wake up with regret the next morning. I count down the hours to bedtime and then stay up late all over again. What is this sleep sabotage? According to sleep and mental health experts, it’s called “revenge bedtime procrastination,” and I’m far from alone in my experience. In fact, one study revealed that up to 53 percent of young adults find themselves in the same cycle. If you spend most nights avoiding bedtime despite feeling tired during the day, you may be experiencing revenge bedtime procrastination. Read on for more information and what to do about it.

What is Revenge Bedtime Procrastination?

Revenge bedtime procrastination is the decision to sacrifice sleep for a little free time. “It’s a form of self-indulgence, where people take ‘revenge’ on their daytime responsibilities by staying up late, despite knowing the negative consequences of their sleep,” explained Marissa Moore, MA LPC and Mental Health Consultant Writer at Mentalyc. The choice itself isn’t necessarily conscious, but people stuck in this cycle often don’t recognize that their busy days may be driving their desire to stay up.

In my personal experience, I go about my day with full intention to go to sleep at a decent time. But as soon as my kids are in bed, the kitchen is clean, and I can finally relax, that intention goes out the window. Even though I’m rarely doing anything productive (shout out to TikTok), hours pass and suddenly, it’s after midnight. Even then, I have to convince myself to go to sleep.

Why Do We Do It?

So why don’t we just…go to bed earlier? We’re not procrastinating bedtime just because want to finish one more episode of The Summer I Turned Pretty or scroll for a few more minutes. There’s something deeper causing us to sacrifice the sleep we know we need. Here are some potential causes.

Lack Of Free Time During the Day

Every day we wake up and hit the ground running, whether that means heading to work, getting kids off to school, or hitting the gym. It’s a constant race against time to excel in our careers, be parents of the year, get in the best shape of our lives, create a Pinterest-worthy home aesthetic, maintain friendships, and stay hydrated. When we finally have time to relax, it’s hard to go to sleep knowing the madness starts again the second we wake up. According to Dr. Raffaello Antonino, this boils down to the human need for control and leisure. He explains, “The Self-Determination Theory in psychology posits that we have a basic need for autonomy. When this need is unmet, we might seek ways, even counterproductive ones, to fulfill it.” In other words: You don’t have any time during the day to relax, unwind, or do what you want instead of what you have to do, so you’re subconsciously (or consciously) craving free time by the end of the day.

Lack of Self Regulation

According to Moore, inadequate work-life balance, high levels of stress, and emotional exhaustion can lead people to use late-night hours as a way to decompress and escape from their daily challenges. “The immediate pleasure derived from these activities can be more enticing than the long-term consequences like sleep deprivation.” A Netflix show, scrolling through TikTok, or clicking through Instagram stories releases dopamine in the brain, activating our reward center. This feels really good during the moment and can almost feel addictive, setting off a pleasure/reward cycle in the brain. When we’re releasing too much cortisol and not enough happy hormones (such as serotonin), the brain will crave a “quick hit” of dopamine from activities like scrolling social media or watching TV, sacrificing habits that will impact our happiness levels long term, such as getting a good night’s sleep.

Why Revenge Bedtime Procrastination is Sabotaging Your Health

Over time, doomscrolling your precious sleep away affects far more than just your energy levels. Staying up late ultimately leads to sleep deprivation, which has direct ties to physical and mental health. Without enough sleep, you’re at higher risk for increased stress, anxiety, and depression and you may find it more difficult to regulate your emotions. Sleep deprivation is also linked to many chronic physical health problems and symptoms.

Bedtime procrastination specifically carries its own set of risks. The cycle itself wears you down, taking a toll on self-efficacy. Dr. Antonino explains, “The very act of procrastination can create a loop of guilt and stress.” Staying up late to reclaim your free time could also impede your other routines. Maybe you start skipping your morning workouts due to exhaustion. Now you’re not only feeling guilty, but you’re lacking a form of stress relief. Maybe you start hitting snooze an extra time, leaving yourself less time to get ready in the morning. Rushing in the morning is stressful, and will only exacerbate the root problem: lack of time for yourself.

How to Break The Revenge Bedtime Procrastination Cycle

Incorporate mini forms of self-care throughout your day

Whether or not you’re losing sleep, it’s not sustainable to cram all of your self-care into the short window of time before bed. Since bedtime procrastination is a sign that you aren’t fitting enough joy into your day, try to incorporate small forms of self-care to meet your needs. As for what you need more of, look at the activities you typically do late at night.

For example, if you’re staying up to soak up some alone time watching your comfort TV show or taking a bath, it’s likely a sign you need more moments of relaxation throughout the day: start your day with 15 minutes of yoga or meditation or squeeze in a short walk sometime during the day. If you’re staying up late eating ice cream or sending funny TikToks to a friend, you might be missing out on joy and connection throughout the day. Try calling your friend during your commute, playing with your dog when you get home, or committing a small amount of time to a hobby that you enjoy.

Set the scene for sleep

Starting now, your bedroom is for sleep, not scrolling. Your phone is not only the culprit of “just five more minutes” turning into hours, but the blue light from your screen can further disrupt your sleep. Karen E. Carloni, a licensed clinical professional counselor recommends stopping screen time at least an hour before bed. Carloni also recommends cutting back on caffeine and considering early evening exercise. Studies suggest that as long as exercise isn’t too intense or close to bedtime, it could improve your sleep.

Ask for help

There are plenty of ways to work on breaking the bedtime procrastination cycle on your own. But sometimes, it’s complicated. Carloni points out that many factors contributing to revenge bedtime procrastination, like stress management, are difficult to successfully navigate on your own. Sometimes 15 minutes of yoga isn’t going to cut it. Working through your needs will take time and you might have to dig deep. Putting that task on yourself can feel daunting and may add more stress. If you feel discouraged, you don’t have to figure it out alone.

Carloni adds, “If you find that you are unable to get to bed at a reasonable time for an extended period of time, are chronically tired during the day, or that your lack of sleep is negatively affecting your relationships or work, you may need help.” Talking with your therapist might be a good place to start, as they can help you recognize what needs are currently unmet and work through them. If you’re a long-term sleep procrastinator, you may need help from a sleep specialist to reestablish good sleep hygiene. This will ensure that when you get yourself to bed on time, you get the quality sleep you need.