Revenge bedtime procrastination, or RBP, is not formally recognized as a psychiatric disorder in the DSM-5. Professionals in the sleep space (including myself) are not using this term to describe a single patient’s experience. However, this term has surfaced on social media, which suggests that RBP is worth talking about.

What Is Revenge Bedtime Procrastination?

RBP seems to have been coined as a term that attempts to categorize people who feel jipped of a sense of control during this unprecedented time in history, that is, people whose “baseline” has been disrupted by the COVID pandemic. People are and have been tired of homeschooling their children, working out of their closets or bedrooms, not being able to travel, and so forth. Since they don’t have enough time in the day to meet demands, they let their daytime activities “bleed into the night” in an effort to improve their situation – thus, moving back or “procrastinating” on their bedtime to fit in more “me time.”

These individuals may be experiencing new or heightened anxiety as well. The “revenge” piece comes in because people want to take back a sense of control that they feel has been removed from their lives. This action can have a paradoxical effect, however, making an overall situation worse.

There is no medical or psychological consensus or clarity as to what revenge bedtime procrastination is or isn’t. Nevertheless, if someone is struggling with sleep and identifies with this term, and that prompts them to seek help for their struggles…then that’s a good thing.

Sleep Science: Anxiety, Hyperarousal, and Insomnia

Let’s turn to sleep science. When anxiety or hyperarousal are linked to a person “putting sleep off” to later in the evening, this enables the anxiety or hyperarousal to interfere with the body’s sleep drive, which tends to accumulate throughout the course of the day. Sleep drive contributes to that tired feeling and helps one fall asleep. When this process is hijacked (ie, their sleep drive is overridden), the person is not going to bed feeling relaxed and calm – they are not prepared to sleep.

RBP seems to focus on adults. However, imagine a child who would rather be doing anything else aside from sleeping. In Scenario 1, the bed or the bedroom may be avoided until much later in the evening. In Scenario 2, time may be spent in bed not sleeping but reading, watching TV, eating, playing with a pet, etc.

Both scenarios can be problematic in children – and in adults. The former may equate to less opportunity for adequate sleep time. The latter can lead to longer-term sleep challenges, especially if the person delaying sleep experiences insomnia.

It’s important to note that while the presentation of insomnia often looks different from person to person, it tends to be characterized by difficulty falling or staying asleep, waking up too early, or experiencing poor sleep quality.

If the person who is experiencing sleep drive override, along with insomnia, does not get out of bed to practice stimulus control (ie, using the bed for purposes other than sleep or intimacy), then they are likely to compound the problem. When I see patients struggling with chronic insomnia, they often report that the bed/bedroom is no longer considered a place of rest and relaxation but rather a place of anxiety and problematic sleep. The good news is that new behaviors and skills can be learned to manage anxiety, insomnia, and even bedtime procrastination.

See also insomnia and ADHD, and insomnia and traumatic brain injury.

How to Identify Revenge Bedtime Procrastination as a Behavior

To identify sleep procrastination from other sleep disorders, this is where a comprehensive psychological and behavioral evaluation is needed. It’s important to highlight that RBP may not actually be a sleep problem or disorder – or at least not one that we are aware of in the field at this time.  Each individual is unique and RBP could be a proxy for several things, including but not limited to anxiety, depression, insomnia, relationship difficulties, stress, burnout, and more. When it comes to knowing what to prioritize, clinician skill and experience come into play as well as patient preferences.

Diagnostic categories are often not so discreet. I often see anxiety, low mood, and medical complications existing in combination with sleep disorders. I mention this because patients often show up at my office not feeling hopeful that their situation can be improved. Very few people consider themselves to be a “squeaky clean” textbook case, so to speak, and most people are not. One of my primary goals of the initial consultation (and beyond), therefore, is to impart hope. Evidence-based interventions exist and trusting the science and the process all are very important to the healing process.

Revenge Bedtime Procrastination Management

If an individual is delaying bedtime in order to have “me time,” I typically advise they work personal time (ie, scrolling through social media, watching a favorite show) into another portion of their day, such as in the morning before the workday or after dinner. I recommend that clients conduct their own experiment and set a period of non-phone or computer time before bed. They begin with 20 minutes and see if they can work up to 1 or 2 hours. (Note: Television viewing is generally permitted because the screen is not as close as with a phone or tablet.) The closer the screen, the more sleep-interfering rays which suppress the production of melatonin, our natural darkness cue hormone. I also remind clients that sleep in itself is a form of self-care. By making sleep a priority, they are actually engaging in “me time.”

Be cognizant of – and share with your clients – the fact that it is not uncommon to have “bad nights” once in a while. Mental health professionals working in the sleep space should say this more often. It’s helpful to normalize “crappy” nights here and there.

It’s also helpful to give people permission to stay up late and not have a curfew every night if it makes them feel more in control. In fact, I often tell patients who are being treated for insomnia with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT-I) that they do not have a curfew. They do have to keep a set wake up time, however.

Recommendations for Improved Sleep

Below are a few additional recommendations I use with clients who may be struggling with sleep, whether it’s related to procrastination, insomnia, or another sleep disorder.

  1. Attempt a consistent sleep schedule, 7 days a week.
  2. Use the bed and bedroom for sleep or intimacy, nothing else.
  3. Get out of bed if you can’t sleep.
  4. Be mindful of a consistent tendency to push back sleep time.

 

Last Updated: Sep 9, 2021