Nestled in bed, I'm aware of the clock striking way-past-my-bedtime o'clock. But I'm not sleeping yet.
I fight the sleep weighing down my eyelids. I'm not ready to call it a night just yet.
After all, it's the only time I get to myself. So what if I spend it mindlessly scrolling through social media, or watching random videos on Youtube?
On nights like this, I'm acutely aware of how what I'm doing is a wasting time. But, oh well, it's the only time in the day that I get to 'waste'.
Turns out this habit of mine is common enough for there to be a phrase for it.
It's called 'Revenge Bedtime Procrastination', and you probably do it too without even realising you're doing it.
What Is 'Revenge Sleep Procrastination'?
According to the US National Sleep Foundation, the menacing sounding phrase refers to the act of staying up late in spite of being tired in favour of doing leisure activities—which more often than not involves being on your phone.
People who don’t have enough free time during the day or feel like they don’t have control over the rest of their day are more likely to do this.
The concept of sleep procrastination is not a new one. 'Revenge bedtime procrastination’, however, is an internet phrase first used in 2016 in China, that has since spread through social media platforms such as TikTok and Twitter.
Why Do We Do It?
So what makes us sacrifice the sleep we know our bodies desperately need?
Speaking to FIT, Dr Manvir Bhatia, senior neurologist and sleep specialist, Neurology and Sleep Centre, Delhi, talks of two main reasons for this.
“The first reason is that people who have a busy schedule or too much happening during the day feel like night is the only time they have to themselves. They feel like this ‘me time’ is their right, and they want to hold on to it.”Dr Manvir Bhatia, senior neurologist and sleep specialist, Neurology and Sleep Centre
We do this because, for many of us, that time in the night, after we're done with work after the kids have been put to bed, is the only time we get ‘to ourselves’ and it provides us with a sense of freedom and comfort.
We also procrastinate sleeping to put off the next day which will bring with it the same routine and madness. Because the sooner your sleep, the sooner tomorrow will come.
The other reasons that Dr Bhatia highlights are impulsiveness, a lack of self-regulation, and the availability of unlimited content that facilitates this habit.
She explains, "whether its social media or tv shows and movies, there is a continuity and abundance of content to be consumed which promotes binge-watching."
"But this can be overcome with strong self-motivation and discipline," she adds.
There is also the psychological concept of Intention-action gap at play here.
To put it simply, intention-action gap refers to your intentions not translating into actions.
This is commonly seen in health behaviour like exercise and healthy eating—like how you know sugar is bad for you but you can't help reach for that second slice of cake.
The pandemic has only made it worse.
This phenomenon and the term have both been around for a while now, but it's taken new life in the pandemic, when work-from-home has blurred the lines between work and personal life.
In fact, studies show that people have been working up to 2.5 hours longer more per day than they did in pre-pandemic times.
Losing a Few Zs Can Be More Damaging Than You'd Think
Deliberately procrastinating sleep is not a clinical condition like insomnia, but it can lead to chronic sleep deprivation and all the problems that arise as a result of it.
Some of the ramifications of sleep deprivation include,
Impaired cognition and alertness during the day
Heightened risk of Diabetes
Heightened susceptibility to mental health disorders
Studies have also show deep sleep helps protect against the onset of dementia.
You can't carry forward sleep
If you've ever thought it was a good idea to push yourself to stay up late thinking you will 'catch up' on your sleep in the weekend by sleeping in, you might want to think again.
"You can catch up on the quantity, but not the quality of sleep you need." says Dr Bhatia.
Dr Bhatia goes on to talk about the body-sun-social clock or the circadian rhythm, and the impact of the three being out of sync.
"There are certain hormones that peak at night, and sleep also impacts our antibody production." She says.
Our bodies have evolved over centuries to the point where the secretion of these 'night hormones' is determined by the sun and light.
"So, staying up at night, exposure to artificial light, especially blue light can suppress these."
Even a day of no sleep can wreak a havoc on your body. Your body responds to lack of sleep the next day by releasing stress hormones and cutting glucose metabolism to keep you alert.
A study conducted by the University of California, at Berkeley, found an increased activity in the amygdalae—the part of the brain responsible for fear and anxiety—in participants who had lost a night's sleep, all of whom were otherwise young, healthy adults.
Writing for FIT , Dr Faiz Abbas Abidi, junior doctor, and researcher at Era Hospital, explains how sleeping late can lead to a decrease in melatonin secretion which speeds up aging and tumorigenesis, visceral adiposity, and cardiovascular function.
"When you sleep is when your body's repair system is best at work," Dr Bhatia adds.
To break it down, sleep boosts the production of antibodies like T cells and cytokines that help fight off inflammation and illness.
She also emphasises that this damage that the lack of a good night's sleep cannot be undone with naps or 'catch up' sleep.
How do you stop?
We all know that the ideal number of hours of sleep one should get every night is 8 hours. But how do you overcome the habit of sleep procrastination and the urge to hold on to your 'me time' to ensure you're catching enough Zs?
- Choose your battles
First and foremost, pace yourself, says sleep specialist Dr Nishi Bhopal. "Remember that you don't have to get everything done every single day. There might be days when you have to work longer or stretch yourself thin, but that shouldn't be on a regular basis."
- Cut off from work
"In the pandemic, there is no longer a distinction between home and work and there is no commuting that used to work as a 'cut off' between your work and personal life."
For this reason, she says, "its important to consciously detach from work and maintain those boundaries."
- Have an unwinding routine
This 'cut off' Dr Bhatia suggests can be simulated with a set unwinding routine between work ending and bedtime.
“Make sure to set aside a fixed time before bed for unwinding and engage in relaxing activities like reading, journaling, meditating or a nighttime selfcare routine.”Dr Manvir Bhatia
- Do it sans technology
"Stop using phones and other gadgets at least 45 minutes before you sleep."
- Don't leave it unchecked
Dr Bhatia emphasis on the importance of catching poor sleeping patterns earlier on. "Its important to not let it go on for months or years. See a professional if none of these hacks work for you."
"But under no circumstance should you self medicate with alcohol, sleeping pills, or other substances," she adds.