When Sleep Procrastination Hinders Nurses’ Wellness
‘Revenge bedtime procrastination’ is a name given to the practice of indulging in activities that keep people up at the very time they most need to settle into sleep and recharge.
After a lengthy nursing shift, attending to family duties and running a household, it’s no wonder that a nurse might squeeze in a few minutes of mindless internet scrolling or catching up on a favorite streaming series before bed.
But what happens when those minutes turn to hours, eating up time needed for recharging with a good night’s sleep?
Enter “revenge bedtime procrastination,” an intuitive stress response that can ruin sleep habits and lead to chronic feelings of fatigue as well as the problems that go with them. The challenges of a nursing shift become even more difficult when you’re sleep deprived.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services Policy
Alicia Roth, PhD, a behavioral sleep medicine psychologist at Cleveland Clinic, explains that people turn to revenge bedtime procrastination out of an impulse to grab more free time in a time-crunched world.
“One of the reasons why it 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,” says Dr. Roth. “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.”
The practice isn’t new, but it earned its own moniker around 2018 on Chinese social media. The Chinese refer to revenge bedtime procrastination as ‘bàofùxìng áoyè’, or “retaliatory staying up late.”
The pressures of the pandemic, especially on healthcare workers, has helped fuel the practice. And while the impulse to engage in bedtime procrastination is about de-stressing, it does the opposite for those who find themselves habitually going down the rabbit hole.
“It’s like you refuse to do something that you know is good for you because you’re trying to indulge yourself a little bit to make up for how hard life has been the rest of the day,” says Dr. Roth.
Bedtime procrastination can indicate the need to look at one’s life more holistically, says Dr. Roth. “Part of it is reevaluating what you care about in life and figuring out if you are spending time on things that are important to you. When you take these elements and then look at how you’re spending your time during the day, a discrepancy between them can cause a lot of distress,” she says.
A discrepancy might exist, for instance, for a nurse who values having fun with loved ones but spends most days attending to a never-ending checklist of work and home duties.
Reprioritizing to focus on what matters most is the key.
“No one has come to me and said, ‘I need to work on revenge bedtime procrastination.’ It’s more like people want to figure out what’s important in their lives,” says Dr. Roth. “I help them redesign their days so they have time for those valuable things in addition to the stuff that they have to do. That can be major, overarching therapy work and it can look different for every person.”
While getting to these root conflicts are an essential step, Dr. Roth suggests a few ways to improve sleep in the short run.
Your idea of when you should be in bed might be at odds with what your body actually needs, says Dr. Roth.
“Sometimes you’re setting goals for your sleep, and your body isn’t ready for that yet. Listening to your body’s needs is important when it comes to having good sleep habits,” she says. “It’s usually not beneficial to set up arbitrary goals like going to bed at a certain time. Instead, if you know when your body is ready for sleep, meaning your head can hit the pillow and you’d be out by 11 p.m., then you can structure your sleep health goals around that.”
Developing a buffer zone between the world and your sleep is ideal. A bedtime routine can help signal the body to prepare for sleep, but it’s important to stay out of bed until you’re ready to close your eyes. “If looking at videos relaxes you and helps you detach and feel better, that’s fine, but do it before that ideal time when you fall asleep, and don’t do it in bed,” says Dr. Roth.
If you’ve been battling sleep procrastination, Dr. Roth suggests trying to a change of approach for a few weeks. If nothing seems to help, talk to a healthcare provider.
“Reach out sooner rather than later to your primary care doctor,” says Dr. Roth. “You might not need sleep intervention. You might just need to see a general therapist to work through your stress.”