A woman practicing revenge bedtime procrastination by scrolling on her phone in bed late at night.

Sergey Mironov / Moment via Getty Images

What Is Revenge Bedtime Procrastination, and How Can You Quit Doing It?

That late-night scrolling is affecting your sleep (and your workouts). Here are six pro tips for breaking the habit.

By Jessica MigalaJanuary 24, 2024


As a mom to two (very active) boys, I feel like I barely have time to myself. And so at night when I go to bed, I partake in one of my favorite activities: staying up late to watch reality TV while scrolling through one of my favorite shopping sites. While it’s fun in the moment, I end up sleeping less than I need to, and often feel groggier and less powerful during my morning workouts the next day as a result. Turns out, there’s a name for this common phenomenon: revenge bedtime procrastination.

Of course, your sleep procrastination habit might be different from mine—maybe you stay up to watch reruns of your favorite show, you get lost in a TikTok-scrolling time warp, or the book you’re reading is too good not to finish. But no matter why you stay up later than you know you should, revenge bedtime procrastination can seriously impact your sleep—and as a result, how you feel the next day.

Keep reading to learn about why revenge bedtime procrastination is so tempting, the drawbacks of staying up late for the sake of me time, and how to kick your bedtime procrastination habit once and for all.

What Is Revenge Bedtime Procrastination?

Revenge bedtime procrastination isn’t a clinical term by any means, but the concept may feel familiar: “The idea is that people prioritize other activities at the expense of sleep in order to regain some autonomy,” says Aric Prather, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the University of California, San Francisco and the author of The Sleep Prescription.

The word “revenge” is important in all of this: It signals that you’re taking something back that you don’t feel as if you have. And, in this case, it’s your time. You may feel as if you don’t have the time or choice to do what you want during the day, so you fit those things in during the only open window of opportunity: before bed.

Unfortunately, revenge bedtime procrastination often involves mindless activities that only serve to keep us up later, which is a real problem for your sleep. “In my experience in discussing this with clients, the majority of this time spent procrastinating is not being used for awesome things,” says Julia Kogan, PsyD, a sleep specialist and neuropsychologist based in Chicago. Rather, “it’s used for an additive activity, like getting into a social media tunnel or binge-watching a TV show.”

Who Does Revenge Bedtime Procrastination Affect, and What Causes It?

Revenge bedtime procrastination can affect anyone, but it can be especially prevalent for those who feel like the only time they have to themselves is before bed. “In general, anyone who has too many demands, limited time to themselves to do things they enjoy, or feel their time is not their own is susceptible to revenge bedtime procrastination,” Prather says. 

Parents like me go through it, but so do those who have other caretaking roles, long commutes, demanding jobs, or just so much going on that their “me time” gets pushed out. A small 2014 study on bedtime procrastination published in the Journal of Health Psychology found that 53 percent of adults went to bed later than they wanted to at least two days per week. It makes sense: When you feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day, you may find yourself leaning on that glorious time before bed when it feels like time is yours alone (finally!) and you can spend it however you’d like. 

“For the most part, [revenge bedtime procrastination] is caused by not feeling as if you have a lot of free time to begin with between work or kids and other priorities,” Kogan says. “It’s something that a lot of people deal with.” When you need some time for yourself and the only choice is to push back your bedtime to do so, it feels easy in the moment to sacrifice sleep, she says.

Consequences of Revenge Bedtime Procrastination

There’s nothing shameful about revenge bedtime procrastination (it’s understandable and common), but there are some drawbacks to keep in mind. If you have a set wake-up time like me, then any extra time you spend awake before bed eats into your sleep (which, experts note, should be at least seven hours per night). 

Although sleep might be one of the first things to go when you feel overbooked, its absence certainly doesn’t go unnoticed. “Insufficient sleep can have negative impacts on health and well-being, and can make daily stressors of life more stressful,” Prather says. “Our research shows that when people get less sleep than they typically do, they report more stress during the day and they perceive the events they experience as more stressful than they would have on days when they got more sleep the night before.” Interestingly enough, feeling more stressed may negatively impact your sleep quality that night, too, their research found. It’s a high-stress cycle that can be tough to unlatch yourself from. 

Revenge bedtime procrastination can also tank your productivity, which becomes a problem for your sleep later on. “When you’re tired, you’re not as focused or energetic, and you drag more,” Kogan explains. As a result, you may need to spend more time on work tasks, which cuts into the time you have available to spend on yourself. Then, you guessed it: The only opportunity for me time gets bumped to later at night, often when you should be sleeping. 

How Revenge Bedtime Procrastination Impacts Exercise

When you’re sleep-deprived from bedtime procrastination, it’s harder to bring your best self to your workout. “Lack of sleep can have dire consequences on other healthy habits,” Prather says. If you’re dragging, you may be less motivated to work out and stick to a healthy diet, he explains.

Certainly, if a bedtime procrastination habit becomes chronic, you’ll find that the lack of sleep can impede your ability to reach your health goals, Kogan adds. “We forget how big of a role sleep plays in everything,” she says.

Here are some of the biggest ways revenge bedtime procrastination (and the lack of sleep that follows) can potentially impact you:

1. Your Exercise Performance Might Worsen

Not surprisingly, sleep deprivation (defined as sleeping less than you need, or less than seven hours for adults) has been shown to negatively impact exercise performance, according to a 2022 meta-analysis published in the journal Sports Medicine. There’s a whole host of things that can go wrong when you’re sleep-deprived: You have less muscular strength and endurance, you struggle with motivation, exercise feels harder, your cognitive capabilities aren’t up to par, and your fine motor skills aren’t as sharp, researchers explain. 

2. Your Workout Recovery May Take a Hit

Rest is vital post-exercise, so without enough sleep, it’s possible that your body won’t get what it needs to optimally recover between workouts. Losing out on sleep increases inflammation, impairs immune system function, affects muscle repair, impacts pain sensitivity, and can simulate symptoms of overtraining, according to research published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine in 2019. 

3. You May Not Recover from Injuries as Efficiently

There’s some evidence that sleep may support your body’s ability to recover from muscle injury, according to a 2021 study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. Just as you need to exercise to achieve your fitness goals, you also need proper sleep to stay healthy and recover well. 

4. Your Diet Might Shift

Sleep loss changes your appetite hormones, such that you feel hungrier and less apt to feel full. Kogan points out that under times of stress and sleep deprivation, the body tends to ask for high-carb and sugary foods, as they’re a quick source of energy. That can make it more challenging to stick to healthy foods that build muscle, promote recovery, and provide lasting energy

A man who's no longer suffering from revenge bedtime procrastination. He's sleeping soundly in bed on his side at night.

gorodenkoff / iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

How to Stop Revenge Bedtime Procrastination

While there’s no fast fix for revenge bedtime procrastination, you can create an improved evening routine that you enjoy—and that doesn’t leave you sleep-deprived—by analyzing your motivations and putting new habits in place. Here’s what experts recommend:

1. (Try to) Take Back Your Time

If it’s possible, analyze your day to see if there are windows where you can sneak in activites just for yourself. “This can come in the form of taking micro-breaks, a walk around the office, or getting outside just to break up the day,” Prather says. The Peloton App also offers guided meditations, stretches, and workouts as short as five minutes (and up to two hours) that can refresh your mind and body, too.

2. Spend More Time on Joyful Things

Along with capturing bits of time throughout the day to refresh, you’ll also want to find time during the week or month (or whenever you can fit) for the things that you love to do—the things that make you feel like you.

“Take an inventory of what’s valuable, fun, and interesting to you and where you’re doing those things in your life. The answer might be that you’re not,” Kogan says. Then, consciously choose to spend time on meaningful activities and plan them into your schedule (and actually do them!) so you have less of a need to take back that time at night on activities that aren’t truly uplifting or fulfilling. 

3. Go Where Your Energy Is

If you’re a “night owl,” you might feel as if nighttime is when you come alive, Kogan says. Staying up and being productive in the evening may be second nature. If that sounds like you, examine how you spend your time before bed. Rather than endlessly scrolling on your phone, the evening might be the best opportunity for you to do meaningful work or a beneficial activity, she says. (Just make sure you’re still getting enough Zzzs each night.)

4. Set Hard Limits on Social Media

Social media apps are designed to be incredibly addicting to keep you in them, Kogan says. Add that to a lack of self-control at the tail end of the day, and you’re left with lots of screen time. “You promise yourself you’ll just stay on for five minutes and before you know it, it’s 2 AM,” she says.

Fortunately, simply knowing that many social media apps are designed to keep you scrolling can help. Be particularly mindful that once you open the app, it’s hard to close it again. 

This is where hard boundaries surrounding daily cell phone use can come into play, too. “You’ll feel as if you have far more time for other things you could be doing,” Kogan says. On both Androids and iPhones, you can set time limits for individual apps to help you stick to screen time goals.

5. Schedule Bedtime

Many of us rely on morning alarms to start our days on time, but have you ever considered setting a bedtime alarm? Try scheduling one for one to two hours before you plan to go to bed, Prather suggests. “Shut work off and do something for yourself—take a shower or [do] another calming activity,” he suggests. “These can become rituals that tell your body it is time to ‘let go’ and go to sleep.” 

And to help limit social media scrolling further, you can also opt to stay off your phone after your bedtime alarm goes off, if it’s feasable. That way, you can free yourself up to do things that are truly relaxing and rejuvenating.

6. Stick with a Routine

Humans are creatures of habit, so if it’s been ingrained in you to slip in your bed and watch TV or check social media, it may feel challenging to switch things up and pursue enjoyable, relaxing activities that don’t keep you up late. Give it time, and with practice, you should find that your new healthy habits stick. “The more this can become routine, the more likely you will find yourself yearning for bed rather than putting it off,” Prather says.

The Takeaway

Revenge bedtime procrastination is phenomenon that involves staying up late and short-changing your sleep in order to have “me time.” It often happens due to a lack of control over one’s schedule. Parenthood, caretaking, demanding jobs, busy calendars, and long commutes cut into our free time, sometimes leaving bedtime as the only available window to do what you’d like. Setting boundaries around screen time, finding more opportunities during the day to take a break, carving out time to do things you enjoy, and establishing a sleep routine can help you take back your time and get the shut-eye you need so you can excel in life—and in your workouts.

This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.


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