We’ve all been there: you know you have to be up early for work however that doesn’t stop you from binging half a dozen episodes of your favorite new show or playing way too much Overwatch with the scrubs you call your gaming buddies well into the night. Next thing you know, you’re setting an alarm for three hours from now hoping you actually hear it and can drag yourself out of bed. The day ahead is going to suck no matter what. You’ve done it again, and it’s entirely your own fault.
Did you know there’s a name for this phenomenon? No, it’s not executive dysfunction, though I’m sure I’m not the only one around here guilty of that from time-to-time (or constantly, whatever). It’s called ‘revenge bedtime.’ Despite the fact that it sounds like something toddlers do for fun, it’s actually a big problem for working adults who find themselves short on “me time” for leisure (sound familiar?).
It’s a phrase popularized by millennials and Gen Z in China, which literally translates to “sleepless night revenge,” Sandra, a 24-year-old Mandarin speaker living in Paris, told Glamour. In the U.S., the pandemic has exacerbated everything that was already broken in a culture where work determines access to health care and sense of value. “The combination of a capitalist workday, mixed with work-from-home life and an ever growing attachment to our technology is the perfect storm that contributes to ‘revenge bedtime procrastination,’” says Aliza Shapiro, a clinical social worker and therapist in Manhattan. “Intuitively, we know we need to rest in order to become productive again, so when we lack the resource of relaxation during the day we try to find it in other places and times—even if it’s at the expense of our sleep.”
Writer Daphne Lee is credited with bringing the phrase to English-speaking Twitter, something tells me this description may resonate with just a few of you:
Learned a very relatable term today: “報復性熬夜” (revenge bedtime procrastination), a phenomenon in which people who don’t have much control over their daytime life refuse to sleep early in order to regain some sense of freedom during late night hours.
— Daphne K. Lee (@daphnekylee) June 28, 2020
Is it empowering to sit around chugging White Claws in your underwear until 3 a.m. to stick it to the man? Hell if I know. But I do know, having done this way more times than I’d care to admit, that there’s something blissful about that late hour when no one is sending emails or expecting delivery of some project and you can simply be without anyone bothering you. Do you get punished for it in the morning? Sure. But at least you get a few hours in the dark of night to do whatever the hell you want.
The Glamour article has some tips for breaking out of this cycle which predictably include getting more sleep, but carving out some time for yourself during the day and meditation might work too. The gist being that raging at noobs for missing their shots or plopping in front of the TV to watch The Wire for the 10th time while aimlessly scrolling through your Instagram feed probably isn’t helping you to feel “relaxed” despite being your go-to for that precious — and often too rare — leisure time.
So the next time you feel compelled to reach for your phone and waste an hour (or three) mindlessly scrolling in bed, maybe try just being alone with your thoughts for a few minutes. If that doesn’t work, I guess there’s always alcohol.