The Rise of “Revenge Bedtime Procrastination”: Why do we scroll instead of sleep?


Alice Manning delves into the new phenomenon that might explain why you’re staying up late into the night, every night.

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Image by Maxim Ilyahov via Unsplash

By Alice Manning

With the lack of normal routine during lockdown distorting our sense of time, it’s no wonder that so many of us are getting poorer sleep. This piece by The Conversation points to a study showing that 50 percent of Brits are reporting more disturbed sleep in lockdown. Among students in particular, a recent study suggested that nearly 40 percent are addicted to their smartphones, with this having a detrimental impact on their sleep as a result of late-night scrolling. So, maybe your night-time scrolling is more of a problem than you realise.

During the last lockdown, while absent-mindedly scrolling through my Twitter feed, I came across a tweet from June 2020 that caught my eye. The author, Daphne K. Lee, described an affliction that was totally new to me: “Revenge Bedtime Procrastination”. Originating from the Chinese 報復性熬夜, (literal translation: “to suffer through the night vengefully”) the phenomenon refers not to a form of insomnia, but a chronic inability to get to bed at a sensible time due to an overwhelming desire not to “waste” your downtime.

As someone both A) interested in unusual Mandarin phrases, and B) not unused to wiling away a long evening on digital devices, I immediately connected with what I read in that single tweet. Put plainly, it was me to a T. So, as a long-time self-diagnosed sufferer of the condition, I decided to investigate further. What exactly is RBP? How and why do we experience it?

What is “Revenge Bedtime Procrastination”?
The good news is that if you know you struggle with late-night scrolling, you’re definitely not alone. Lee’s original tweet blew up after she posted it, amassing over 250k likes and prompting everything from magazine features (hey) to TikToks from sufferers of RBP.

Put simply, revenge bedtime procrastination is the deliberate delaying of sleep in order to experience more “me-time”, free from the burdens of everyday tasks. One video from TikToker Saman Haider explains the condition well: “[sufferers] will sleep very late at night even if they’re super tired because they don’t want their free time to end and tomorrow to start.” While not an official sleep disorder, the symptoms that describe RBP are very real, and have been recognised by some psychologists.

Who might get RBP?
The term is said to have been popularized in China due to the pressures of urban working life in the country. The BBC reported how young workers, in particular, were more likely to suffer from insufficient sleep. While for UK citizens in lockdown, the realities of homeschooling, working or studying from home mean that it is more difficult than ever to achieve the heralded “work-life balance”. Consultant clinical psychologist Stephanie Carty said of RBP: “With our current situation of lack of control and choice, thanks to the Covid-19 restrictions, it’s natural that we seek to create our own freedom and time.”

In terms of symptoms, if you’ve ever felt like you just couldn’t stop procrastinating before going to bed, then you may be a sufferer. As tempting as it is to treat yourself to that one last Netflix episode in order to practice “self-care”, are you really giving yourself what you need? As Lee has said, most of us who suffer from RBP feel that we have little control over our daily lives, and the desire to extend our “free time” causes us to stay up late into the night.

How can we overcome it?
Insufficient sleep not only drains you of energy but it also increases your risk of developing conditions such as heart disease. Some tips that help good sleep more generally, could also work effectively to tackle RBP. Here are a few strategies that I have used to help myself to get better sleep:

  • Limit your screen-time. It helps to have set hours (e.g. 10pm-8am) when you simply don’t use any screens. This way, you train your brain to associate certain times with screens (and certain times without), making screen-time rewarding rather than draining. If this seems overwhelming at first, you could adjust the bounds on weekends to cut yourself a bit of slack.
  • Phase back your bedtimes. If you’ve got into the routine of passing out at 2am, it can be too much of a shock to try to simply reset that in the space of one night. Take it gently and phase your new bedtime so that you sleep 10-15 minutes earlier each night, in order to ease your body clock back into a healthier routine. Whatever time you’ve chosen, however, make sure that you stick to it.
  • Have a bath in the evening. While relaxing in themselves, baths actually help to cool down your body temperature, putting you in a better position for getting to sleep. If it’s your habit to watch an episode or read a chapter before bed, try combining the two!

Ultimately, it’s likely that the lack of control that results in us experiencing RBP has got something to do with the state of lockdown we find ourselves in. Although this makes it difficult to deal with in the short term, reassuringly we know in the long run that lockdown will – eventually – be over. Getting a good night’s sleep has possibly never been so important, so if you think you’re struggling with RBP, have the confidence to recognise it and hold yourself accountable for your sleeping habits. You’ll thank yourself for it tomorrow!

Further advice from the NHS on getting a good night’s sleep can be found here.

Featured image courtesy of Maxim Ilyahov via Unsplash. Image licence found here. No changes were made to this image.