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Revenge Bedtime Procrastination

Revenge Bedtime Procrastination

How is sleep important for mental health?

Sleep and mood often have a cyclical impact on each other. Mood disorders such as depression and anxiety involve symptoms relating to poor sleep quality, disturbed sleep, insomnia, and hypersomnia. These tend to be some of the most distressing symptoms among individuals struggling with these disorders, and in turn, contribute to secondary exacerbations on mood. The bottom line is, issues related to sleep strongly impact the course of anxiety and depression-related presentations, often leading to exacerbations in other symptoms such as despondent mood, poor memory, agitation, and suicidal ideation. And although sleep and mood intermingle in a cycle, research has found that the effect of sleep quality on mood is more pronounced than the impact of mood on sleep.

What is “revenge bedtime procrastination?”

When people feel they have little control over their time during the day, they tend to work out that frustration by staying up later and compensating by engaging in purely self-indulgent activities. This behavior can be explained by the desire to regain control through refuge that is found in the quiet calm of late night hours. Solitude and tranquility are necessary conditions to set the stage for these behaviors. Along with the silence is also a dampening of responsibility and a corresponding unencumberment of roles and identities that have been thrust upon folks during waking hours. When explored through this lens, these behaviors are quite adaptive and balanced especially because they are more likely to be performed by those in high stress and responsibility roles. It is a reclaiming of self and autonomy over time that is often spent at the discretion outside forces.

Is it more common amongst a certain demographic?

It is most common among people who have an external locus of control and perceive themselves to have little regulation over their leisure time – which includes students, working adults, and parents who are overwhelmed with childcare responsibilities. This is especially applicable during the pandemic because the border between work/school and home life are distorted, with so many folks staying home all day and absorbing the strain and overlap of their many roles. Therefore, work responsibilities tend to bleed into home life and schedules become less boundaried. Another consequence of working from home is that work responsibilities have grown and taken the space that used to subsist for traveling, coffee breaks, and momentary conversations and passing glances among co-workers. Without this buffer, life would comprise of work and sleep. Therefore, it can be conceptualized as a healthy balance to carve in unstructured low-demand activities to recalibrate the mind.

People often engage in revenge bedtime procrastination because they feel they need that leisure time, and thus sacrifice precious sleep. Why is this behavior detrimental to mental health?

There is a function of avoidance in these behaviors. Specifically, busying oneself through action may function as an avoidance behavior for feeling or thinking through more troubling areas of life. “Doing mode” is often automatic and can protect individuals from the build up of emotions and feelings that accrue during the day. The consequence of this avoidance is an accumulation of unprocessed emotions or stress that will inevitably surface. For the case of revenge bedtime procrastinators the paradox is that they are really only hurting themselves. Although they are motivated by taking back control over their time, they are taking away the valuable resource of sleep which exacerbates the deficit of the finite reserve of time by further taxing their capacity to manage it.

What are the consequences of revenge bedtime procrastination?

There is a turning inward and radical passivity that gets enacted during bedtime procrastination. Part of what make these behaviors feel so good is that they are not efficient uses of time. The independence to spend time in a way that may not be productive or detrimental has a defiant element. In a way, it allows folks to feel they are getting revenge for their 9-5-related frustrations. In small amounts, this can be healthy as it acts as a healthy retreat to assist with adapting to the stressors of modern life. However, it becomes more problematic when this coping strategy becomes rigid and takes on an addictive quality as folks find themselves unable to cope without numbing their stressors instead of managing them directly. 

Tips to prevent revenge bedtime procrastination

Stimulus control. For this technique remove cues that condition your mind to resist sleep. For example, you may have paired your bed with watching an entertaining TV series through classical conditioning processes, and in turn, associate your bed with anticipation or excitement.  When using stimulus control you would instead commit to a consistent bedtime and use the bed only for sleep. Often people are instructed to leave the bedroom if they are unable to sleep within 20 minutes, and only return when they feel drowsy.

Break the automatic and often habitual tendencies to check social media. Schedule distinct worrying time into your day. This may sound counterintuitive, but it’s grounded in the principle of stimulus control training where individuals can begin to contain and manage worries to designated intervals. This frees up the mind and helps individuals to be less encumbered with anxiety during the rest of the day. Drawing from this technique, schedule news consumption time. Be strategic and disciplined in the schedule. It may not be helpful to schedule this time first thing in the morning, as it is likely to set the tone for the rest of the day. Alternatively, bedtime news consumption can have strong implications on wellbeing as we are more vulnerable at night in context of allostatic load, and the emotions that arise from the news tends to be incompatible with sound sleep. Reading the news from a grounded, reputable source tends to be most helpful in terms of staying informed while reducing consumption of hyperbolic opinions and news coverage.

Cultivate a consistent routine before bed. This includes the lighting in your home. Try shutting off bright lights before bed, avoid blue light from screens, avoid social media, read a book, write and reflect on your day (especially ones you might be prone to ruminating about when in bed). Go to bed at the same time each night. The execution of this same nightly routine will indicate to your body that it’s time to rest and will allow you to fall asleep faster. These behaviorist principles, think of Pavlov and his dogs who salivated in response to the bell, will allow you to pair these stimuli with bedtime, and the desired conditioned response will be more seamless sleep.

Paradoxical intention, which is particularly helpful for those who experience insomnia and involves a commitment to remain awake. This works because you’re letting the air out of the sails from the worrying about not being able to sleep and interrupting the process of how that actually sustains insomnia. Letting go of this resistance can often make it easier to sleep because you are reducing the secondarily effects of your judgment and anxiety on your insomnia.

Be deliberate about what you put in your body. This includes avoiding substances like caffeine which will delay on set of sleep and alcohol which tends to interfere with sleep and cause interrupted sleep patterns.

Manage sleep hygiene. This means changing basic lifestyle tendencies that influence sleep (e.g., limiting sugar, alcohol, caffeine, increasing exercise, and managing smoking habits). It also targets ways to build in better nighttime routines to assist with winding down from the day and preparing for rest.

Consider altering aspects in your sleep environment so that it is comfortable and conducive to unbroken sleep (e.g., dark, quiet, cool, hiding the clock).

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