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Do you ever get so busy during the day that you run out of daylight hours to do the things you actually want? Have you ever attempted to remedy this by denying yourself sleep to make time for those activities?

If the answer is yes, then you’ve participated in revenge bedtime procrastination, which refers to those hours you spend putting off sleep so you can have a bit more time for yourself.

The idea of revenge bedtime procrastination has gained some social media attention during recent months, likely due to the increased stress and altered schedules associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Around 40 percent of adults reported having increased trouble sleeping during the pandemic.

But the concept appeared prior to the pandemic. It’s seen as a response to long, stressful work hours that leave little time for personal wants and desires.

The idea is that you’re taking “revenge” on the daytime hours that kept you so preoccupied, and you’re choosing to take some time for yourself at night.

This delay in sleep can look a little different for each person and can also be dependent upon what your daytime life looks like.

For a mom of several little ones, maybe the goal is to steal some quiet time, and even though you’re exhausted you opt to settle in and scroll silently on Instagram.

Maybe your days are highly structured, and all you want to do is lay on the couch and watch the most recent episode of Grey’s Anatomy.

Ramiz Fargo, MD, medical director for the Loma Linda University Sleep Disorder Center, adds that the activities involved in revenge bedtime procrastination are typically easy things you enjoy doing. “It can be swiping through your phone, watching television, or catching up on reading.”

Whatever the activity is, the end result is delayed sleep.

At its core, revenge bedtime procrastination stems from a lack of free time during the day.

Between work, running errands, cooking, checking in on friends, raising children, walking the dog, and all the other essential tasks of daily life, many people aren’t left with much time to do things for pleasure or joy.

It’s worth noting that research suggests that those who engage in this behavior actually want to sleep, despite their actions. This disconnect is known as the intention-behavior gap.

There is a suggested link between revenge bedtime procrastination, general procrastination, and poor self-regulation.

But researchers emphasize that the exact link is unclear. People who tend to procrastinate may be more likely to engage in revenge bedtime procrastination. On the other hand, it’s possible that loss of sleep due to this phenomenon results in more general procrastination.

If you find yourself pushing off getting a decent amount of sleep on a regular basis, consider what else you may be avoiding in your life. Are you putting off paying a bill or sending an email? What about returning that phone call you have been ignoring for a week? All of these things could be connected.

Everyone needs sleep, and not getting enough shut-eye can lead to problems down the road. Missing a night here and there will probably only result in some grogginess the next day.

But regularly not getting enough sleep can eventually start to affect everything from your immune system to your libido. Sleep deprivation is also linked to an increased risk of several chronic health conditions, including heart disease and high blood pressure.

Lack of sleep can also interfere with your mental health, increasing chances of depression and impacting your overall decision-making capability.

A lot of advice around revenge bedtime procrastination focuses on basic sleep hygiene, like not exercising too close to bedtime, avoiding screens at night, and going to sleep at a consistent time each night.

While developing good sleep hygiene is important for overall health, the root cause of revenge bedtime procrastination is the lack of free time during the day.

Consider these strategies for handling responsibilities without forgetting yourself in the process.

Put rest on your calendar

Fargo recommends “carving out designated time in your schedule to take a break.”

It might feel counterintuitive to build downtime into your schedule but think of self-care like any other important work task or meeting: If it’s not on the calendar or to-do list, it probably won’t get done.

Make reasonably sized goals

Part of ensuring this is a habit that you can stick to involves making your new goal both attainable and realistic.

If you’re struggling to find time during the day or you’re worried about falling behind on deadlines, start small. “Using 10- to 15-minute breaks to exercise or decompress during the day can make you more productive in the long run,” says Fargo.

Include the things that matter to you most

Fargo says, “make time for the things and people you appreciate the most.”

Even if it’s just calling your sibling on the phone during your break or taking a quick walk to the mailbox and back, center what makes you feel good during the day.

You don’t need to have a mental health condition to benefit from seeing a therapist. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed more often than not or find it challenging to strike the right balance between work and play, talking to a mental health professional can be a big help.

They can help you with things like:

  • learning new relaxation strategies
  • identifying specific sources of stress and develop tools to manage them
  • think about potential career moves that might offer a better work-life balance
  • coping with any mental health symptoms you experience as a result of not getting enough sleep

Not sure where to start? Our guide to affordable therapy can help.

Occasionally staying up too late reading, scrolling through social media, or talking to friends isn’t anything out of the ordinary. But regularly putting off sleep not only leaves you groggy during the day but also impacts your overall health.

No one “gets used” to little sleep, contrary to popular belief. Depriving your body of what it needs to survive will eventually take a toll. We all have things that we miss out on when we have packed schedules, but finding time to take care of ourselves should not be on that list. Even if it takes sending a Google calendar invite to your best friend to ensure they call you at 1pm to spark taking a short break, figure out what works for you.

Taneasha White is a Black, queer lover of words, inquisition, and community, and has used her role within both literary and organizational spaces to make room for folks who are often cast aside. She’s the founder and editor of UnSung Literary Magazine, a flash fiction and poetry publication focused on offering artistic space for marginalized voices; a guest editor with Quail Bell Magazine; and co-host of the podcast “Critiques for The Culture,” where media is dissected through humor and a sociopolitical lens. You can find more of her work here.