Revenge bedtime: Sacrificing sleep to get more joy

Even though it's bad for us, we're all doing it: cutting down on sleep to fit more fun things into our day.

Sadaf Ahsan 4 minute read May 28, 2021
revenge bedtime

If you're delaying bedtime for me time, you're not alone. Getty

If you ever find yourself sacrificing sleep in favour of staying up and watching a little more Netflix, reading one more chapter or just getting any kind of free time — even if that means you’ll be incredibly tired the next morning — you’re probably experiencing what the Sleep Foundation has dubbed “revenge bedtime.”

It’s as sinister as it sounds, minus any Tarantino-esque thrills and frills: getting “revenge” on the too few work-free  hours in the day by cutting down on sleep in favour of leisure time.

“For many of us, there is definitely more of an overlap between work and personal time during COVID,” explains Judith Mendoza, an occupational therapist who specializes in insomnia at Toronto’s A Good Sleep. “Reduced personal time can drive the need to find the time to recharge or have ‘me time’ when everyone is asleep.”

She also points to our need to feel like we have some sort of control.

“There are financial pressures, work deadlines, juggling family needs and online schooling within the constant hum of ambient anxiety that goes with living through a pandemic with multiple unknowns,” she says. “This reduced sense of control can drive a strong urge to find areas of life where we can exercise control. When we choose to go to bed is within our control.”

And although sacrificing some snooze time in order to pack more “fun” into your day may seem like a good idea — totally worth being exhausted the next day — it’s not doing you any favours. In fact, the inevitable lack of sleep will only make it more difficult for your body to recharge in the ways it needs to. Consider it a kind of Catch-22.

“Feeling overwhelmed often results when life demands exceed what we feel we are capable of delivering,” explains Mendoza. “It can lead to an increased need to self-soothe, to prioritize one’s need to do something ‘just for me.’”

She says that once this need to put ourselves first begins to happen on a regular basis, it can lead to sleep deprivation which reduces our ability to cope with stress, manage anxiety and problem solve, making us “more vulnerable to feeling overwhelmed and continuing the cycle to resist sleep in order to have down time or feel in control.”

That cycle can also impact thinking, memory, productivity, and your ability to make decisions. Your physical health is also at risk as you become more susceptible to cardiovascular problems and metabolic disorders, like diabetes, and erode immune function (which isn’t ideal during a pandemic). For sure, lack of sleep is not good, but it’s not uncommon: 40 per cent of people have had general sleeping problems since the pandemic began in 2020.

According to a 2019 survey published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, students and women are most likely to experience revenge bedtime, along with those who tend to procrastinate in other areas of their life. You know who you are.

So how does one counteract this thirst for revenge? Mendoza notes red flags to look out for, including “if you find yourself intentionally pushing past your bedtime, ignoring body cues such as sleepiness and yawning so that you can have time to yourself, and consistently sleeping less then the recommended seven to eight hour average for adults.”

And if you are finding that this is happening regularly, she suggests reflecting on the reasons why.

“Helpful questions to ask yourself include: Am I reluctant to go to bed? What am I hoping to gain by remaining awake? Does remaining awake and avoiding sleep really make me feel better? How will I feel if I give myself permission to let go of the day and go to bed?” she says.

Although it’s easier said than done, it’s also helpful to stick to a routine – one that includes plenty of leisure time that actually makes you feel as if you’ve had a break and be able to destress. And that also means avoiding caffeine or doomscrolling through Twitter so you’re not wound up before bed. It also helps if you’ve got a cozy, dark space to sleep in so bedtime actually feels like its own destressor.

Sadaf Ahsan is a Toronto-based culture writer, editor and stereotypical middle child. She can be reached here.


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