https://www.smh.com.au-By Kimberly Gillan
You know you should go to bed, but you keep scrolling.Credit:iStock
Whether it’s your busy career, family demands, side hustle or socialising – many of us don’t feel like we can put down the tools until what should be bedtime. But the thought of going straight to bed at 10pm after we’ve only just pressed the final “send” is nothing short of soul-destroying.
Enter “revenge bedtime procrastination” the practice of delaying sleep for some life-affirming “me time”.
The term is a translation of a Chinese phrase, which was brought to English speakers by journalist Daphne K Lee who described it as “people who don’t have much control over their daytime life refusing to sleep early in order to regain some sense of freedom during late-night hours”.
Sydney neuropsychologist Dr Hannah Korrel admits regularly seeing the clock strike midnight after finishing her work and life responsibilities around 10.30pm before she takes some time to scroll social media.
“10.30pm is the true ‘close of business’ in this fast-paced world. Colleagues, family and friends all expect you to be available for a debrief between 5pm and 10.30pm,” she says.
“[After] 10.30pm is the time we finally get to just be alone with our own thoughts, to do all the zoning out and scrolling our brain needs in order to unwind before we actually close our eyes for sleep.”
Dr Korrel says she stays up even though she knows she’ll regret it when the alarm sounds the next morning, and the fact her professional training tells her sleep deprivation can have long-lasting health effects.
“I always think, ‘I will hate myself in the morning’ but sometimes it’s worth the cost, which is feeling really crappy the next day because it’s the only time you get,” she says.
Tracey Smith, 42, from Wodonga, says she waits all day for a quiet couple of hours binge-watching Real Housewives after she’s wrapped up work, parenting and her e-commerce side hustle.
“I really look forward to it, thinking, ‘I can’t wait until I can jump into bed and watch TV,” she says.
“I probably go to bed at 9.45pm but don’t switch off the TV until close to midnight. It’s the most peaceful time of the day – no one is interrupting. If I couldn’t get this, I would feel more stressed and like I got no time to myself at all.”
A shortsighted approach?
Sleep experts are concerned revenge bedtime procrastination can be a vicious cycle.
“The less sleep we have, the less efficient we become the next day – we actually do things slower and make more mistakes,” says sleep scientist Dr Carmel Harrington, author of The Complete Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep.
“The ‘executive brain’ – the part of the brain that makes you able to make good decisions – [wanes] and you start to make bad decisions about staying on your device or continuing to do something, rather than say, ‘OK I’ll stop now because I’m going to be really tired tomorrow.’”
Dr Harrington says that sleep procrastination is largely a modern problem, thanks in large part to our use of screens.
“If you’re in a dimly lit room, reading a book, sleep will take over,” she says.
“But the bright light of the screens affects our ability to sleep and we also get so engrossed with what we’re watching that two hours can go by and you don’t even notice it.”
Dr Gemma Paech, Sleep Health Foundation spokesperson, agrees that often it’s our phones that are sucking up our precious solitude time.
“It’s a fine balance between being able to have some time to wind down while protecting your sleep as much as you can,” she says.
“It’s a good idea to combine your ‘me time’ with something that is relaxing. If you do like looking at Instagram Stories, maybe set an alarm [for] half an hour.”
Start with sleep
If you’re feeling trapped in a tug of war between needing more sleep and craving that precious time to unwind or do what you love, then Dr Paech suggests starting with sleep.
“Try and make a plan during the whole week and on the weekend, so that you’re not [only] leaving your free time until the evening,” she says.
“If you’re not looking after your sleep, then are you really being the best that you could be for your family or work?”
Dr Harrington says that a well-rested person may have more clarity for finding other opportunities for downtime in your waking hours.
“Try and make a plan during the whole week and on the weekend, so that you’re not [only] leaving your free time until the evening.”
“Sometimes people just have to recognise how good they feel after they sleep well to say, ‘Oh I want to feel like that all the time’,” she points out.
“The one thing that keeps me on the sleep straight and narrow is that I recognise how ordinary I feel, how uncreative I am and how un-clever I am when I don’t get the sleep I need.”
And if the night is your only true window for solitude or passion projects, Dr Harrington suggests you “treat” yourself to a couple of late nights each week.
“Treat yourself once every three days – so you might have a late night on a weekend and on a Wednesday where you don’t have to go to bed until 1am if you don’t want to,” she says.
“Don’t deprive yourself all the time – recognise this is not the best thing then maybe do the right thing for the next couple of days. Having fun is important and having the right amount of sleep is important … but know that if you’re not getting the right amount of sleep, you’re going to find having fun difficult anyway.”