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Recognizing and Combatting Revenge Bedtime Procrastination

Many within the legal profession face heavy demands on their time as they balance their workload, domestic responsibilities, and a seemingly endless list of other obligations  ̶  not to mention the stress and anxiety that so often accompany this juggling act. With already limited flexibility, most lawyers are afforded very little time to enjoy leisure activities as simple as reading, watching a favorite television series, or checking in with friends and family on social media platforms. Many attempt to carve out some “me time” before bed and at the expense of much-needed sleep in the form of “revenge bedtime procrastination”.

As explored in an earlier Board article, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) advises the average adult to get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Yet, “at least one third of American adults surveyed reported less than seven hours of sleep on average with closer to one half of participants of some racial and ethnic demographics reporting insufficient sleep.” As numerous studies have shown, quality sleep is essential to fostering good physical and mental health and is considered to be a significant public health issue.

If the importance of sleep hygiene is widely known, why is bedtime procrastination a growing problem? Noted as an “intention-behavior gap” by the Sleep Foundation, this behavior likely is linked to substantial daytime stress. The phrase “revenge bedtime procrastination” was first popularized amongst Chinese workers and students. One such individual wrote in a 2018 blog post that his days “belonged to someone else”.

Behavioral sleep medicine psychologist Alicia Roth explains, “One of the reasons why [revenge bedtime procrastination] refers to revenge is because it’s like you’re trying to exert some control over your life in a society where we have so little control. You’re taking revenge on your inability to control your life and using that little time before bed — that wind-down time — to doomscroll or do something that’s not necessarily healthy for sleep.” With arduous work schedules, many engaging in revenge bedtime procrastination feel that they must “steal back” time for themselves. This behavior may be worsened by the fact that, for many, “capacity for self-control is already at its lowest at the end of the day, which may facilitate sleep procrastination.”

How can you determine if you are engaging in revenge bedtime procrastination? According to a recent article in Psychology Today, there are a few questions that can be asked to help identify revenge bedtime procrastination.

  • Does your daily or weekly schedule tend to be overwhelming without any reserved and honored leisure time?
  • Do you feel a loss of autonomy in your daily or weekly schedule? Are you exhibiting symptoms of burnout?
  • Do you regularly delay going to sleep, cutting into your ideal bedtime?
  • Why are you staying up later than intended? Do you seek needed “me time” at the end of your day?
  • Even though you may acknowledge that you will be tired the following day, do you notice yourself willingly losing sleep in exchange for leisure or alone time?

After identifying some of the determining factors and behaviors of revenge bedtime procrastination, there are some simple actions that can be taken to prevent or lessen this tendency. What are some actionable practices for combatting revenge bedtime procrastination? 

  • Narrow your after-hours to-do list by prioritizing just one or two activities to focus on each night.
  • Avoid use of digital screens, including cell phones and tablets, for at least one hour before bedtime.
  • Stick to a routine tailored to your own needs and preferences. Bodily cues indicating tiredness can develop with habitual sleep times.
  • Incorporate relaxation methods such as meditation or gentle stretching into your bedtime routine to help ease you into sleep.
  • Read the Board’s 2022 article “Sleep Hygiene, Mental Health, and the Legal Profession” for more practical tips for encouraging good sleep hygiene.

In a demanding legal career, revenge bedtime procrastination may seem like a tempting practice for those seeking much-deserved downtime. However, the physical and mental effects of sleep deficiency can be severe and damaging. With intentional and reflective planning, it is possible to balance downtime with getting sufficient and productive sleep, investing in one’s own health and happiness.

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