Sleep Procrastination: Why We Procrastinate Sleep and How to Stop It

22nd Jul 2021


Sleep procrastination might not sound too terrible. But it’s also known as revenge bedtime procrastination, which sounds a bit more scary.

Whatever you call it, it’s a much more common problem than most people think. You may not even realize that you’re doing it!

But it could be the reason you’re lacking energy, feeling unmotivated, and gaining weight.

Let’s delve into why we procrastinate sleep and how to stop it.

What is Sleep Procrastination?

Sleep procrastination is choosing leisure activities over sleep. It’s usually a product of an overly busy schedule that allows little time for fun or hobbies.

Those who work long hours are most at risk of developing bad sleep habits. Let’s face it. We all like to take a bit of time to wind down after work.

For many of us, watching TV series and movies is one of the ways we relax. Have you ever become so engrossed in a show on Netflix that you don’t even realize it’s 2am?

That’s a classic example of sleep procrastination.

When your alarm goes off at 6am, you go into your new day with half the amount of sleep you should have had.

When this happens regularly, it can lead to extreme sleep deprivation. And so subtly that we don’t even realize it!

What Counts as Sleep Procrastination?

Sleep procrastination isn’t just the occasional late night. In order for something to count as sleep procrastination, it must tick these three boxes.

A Delay in Getting to Sleep

This is the obvious first ingredient. To be classified as sleep procrastination, there must be delaying of sleep.

Now, if you’re able to wake up at any time you choose, then it’s not a problem. The problem is when delaying sleep leads to a reduction in total sleep time.

This can happen even if you’re in bed at a decent time. Have you ever found yourself tucked in bed watching TikTok videos or reading the news?

It doesn’t need to be constructive stuff, either.

No Valid Reason

Much of the reason behind sleep delay is simply entertainment. True sleep procrastination has no reasonable reason behind it.

Staying up late to complete a work project doesn’t count as sleep procrastination. That’s a valid reason for getting less sleep.

But things like:

  • Watching TV series or movies
  • Surfing the internet
  • Catching up on social media
  • Reading
  • Playing video games
  • Partaking in other hobbies

… Are not essential activities. Do you spend hours on these activities instead of sleeping? That's exactly what revenge bedtime procrastination is.

An Awareness That It’s Not a Good Idea

The thing with sleep procrastination is we know we’re doing it! We also know the consequences of not getting sufficient sleep.

And yet, we continue to prioritize other things over rest.

These three points are the ingredients for sleep procrastination. 


Why Is It Called Revenge Bedtime Procrastination?

It’s a weird name, isn’t it? There’s no clear indication of how the name came about. But it seems to have started in China, where hectic work schedules make this a huge problem.

It’s generally accepted that the “revenge” part refers to us rebelling against our very own busy schedules.

The Psychology Behind Sleep Procrastination

It all comes down to priorities. Sleep is obviously a highly important part of staying healthy. But when we’re pressed for time we often downplay its importance.

Not having something makes us want it more! Our regular entertainment activities produce happy chemicals in the brain. When we’re so busy that we can’t do these activities, it can have an almost physical “withdrawal” effect on us.

Got a schedule that doesn’t allow time for leisure activities? You may find yourself dropping sleep to partake in dopamine-inducing things.

The sad thing is that we’re only taking revenge on ourselves! We’re not spiting our schedules or our bosses. We’re not making ourselves healthier or happier.

In fact, we’re losing valuable, health-promoting sleep in order to do things that are of little value.

Who Is Most At Risk?

Sleep procrastination can happen to anyone. But it’s almost twice as common in women as it is in men. It also tends to affect a high number of students.

Research shows that millennials and Gen Zers are also more prone to experiencing it. Possibly many of them are in high-pressure positions and have ambitious career goals.

That being said, it can make an appearance in any person with a hectic schedule. It seems to be a sneaky, built-in possibility in every human. Even kids will give up on sleep to play a little longer! 


Potential Consequences of Sleep Procrastination

You might not think about the consequences while you’re binge-watching a TV series at 2am. But there are very real repercussions to sleep deprivation. They can have a severe effect on one’s health.

Lowered Critical Thinking Abilities

Losing sleep has a negative effect on cognitive performance. You’ll find it harder to make good decisions and to pay attention to important things.

As a result, you may notice your productivity decline. This, in turn, increases stress. Can you see how this becomes a dangerous cycle?

Irritability & Mood Swings 

We all know that a lack of sleep causes irritability! The occasional bad night’s rest can lead to grumpiness. But when it becomes a regular thing, it can morph into more dangerous conditions.

Sleep deprivation is closely linked to anxiety and depression. This can become a never-ending cycle. The more anxious or depressed you become, the harder it is to sleep. And vice versa!

On the other hand, a good night’s rest can leave you feeling rejuvenated and cheerful. Flicking between moods can have negative effects on:

  • Your home environment
  • Your relationships
  • Physical health
  • The quality of your work
  • Your motivation

Slower Reflexes

Have you ever had a close call (possible accident) that was only avoided thanks to your quick reflexes? When you haven’t had enough sleep, those reflexes become slow and dull.

Everyday things can become more dangerous. Driving, operating machinery, or even walking down the street is hazardous. In fact, lack of sleep can impact your reflexes as much as consuming alcohol!

Weight Gain

There’s plenty of research to indicate that losing sleep equals gaining weight. But why? Well, there could be a few different reasons.

Sleep deprivation affects metabolism. In particular, losing sleep alters the levels of two hormones - leptin and ghrelin. In a nutshell, leptin reduces appetite while ghrelin stimulates it.

When we don’t get enough sleep, these two go out of whack. Suddenly, your body starts feeling hungry when it shouldn’t be.

This skewed hormone level can lead to overeating without even realizing it.

Here's another possible explanation for an increased appetite when tired. The body needs extra energy.

It hasn’t been able to build up adequate energy reserves during sleep, so it relies on food to give it the energy it needs.

Lowered Immune System

Sleep is vital for the body to rejuvenate and heal. When we’re sleep-deprived, our bodies struggle to do ordinary things. This includes regulating temperature, healing wounds and illness, and protecting us from germs.

Research also suggests that insufficient sleep leads to inflammation and inflammatory diseases. In short, losing sleep can make you physically sick!

Did you know that losing sleep can also make your Covid vaccine less effective? Yes! High quality rest is essential for the body to be able to use the antibodies we give it. 


How to Stop Sleep Procrastination

Sleep procrastination can be a psychological issue. But more often than not, it’s simply a habit. If you’ve realized how detrimental it can be to your health, here are some steps you can take to stop it.

Get Into a Better Sleep Routine

Set a bedtime and stick to it. This isn’t only effective for kids! Going to bed at the same time every night helps the body get into a new, healthy habit.

The key here is to actually be in bed, eyes closed, at your set time. It doesn’t mean climbing into bed and switching the TV on, picking up a book, or checking your Instagram.

By the time your bedtime hour chimes, you should be in bed, in the dark, ready to close your eyes. It may take some time to fall asleep the first few weeks. But push through, and your body will start to adjust.

At the same time, try to get up at the same time every morning. Obviously make sure you’ll be getting at least 7 ½ hours sleep.

By going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day, your body will kick into a new habit. Your circadian rhythm will reset and you’ll find it easier to stick to those times.

Avoid Electronic Devices Before Bed

Research indicates that blue light (from phones, tablets, and TVs) has a negative effect on rest. It disrupts the production of melatonin in the body.

Melatonin encourages sleep. When you’re bombarded by blue light, this sleep-inducing hormone doesn’t do its job.

You may not feel as tired as you should, even though your body and brain need rest.

It’s wise to put down the phone, turn off the TV, and avoid other electronic devices for at least an hour before bed. This will give your body a chance to get the melatonin flowing and encourage rest.

This can be tough! If you feel that you can’t manage it, start with 15 minutes before bed. As you get used to it, extend it to 30 minutes, 45 minutes, and then an hour.

Avoid Caffeine & Alcohol Before Bed

Caffeine is a stimulant. It inhibits sleep hormones and keeps your brain active. This can easily lead to sleep deprivation, even if you feel good at the time.

Alcohol is the opposite. When consumed in moderation, it can help you relax and fall asleep faster. But it’s also been linked to poor sleep quality and a decrease in REM sleep.

Finish your last caffeinated or alcoholic drink at least 4 hours before bed.

Do Something Relaxing Before Bed

Once you’ve put your phone down, try to spend some time getting into a relaxed state before bed.

This should be something easy and light. The idea is to reframe your mind, calm your thoughts, and relax your body so sleep comes easier.

Here are some ideas:

  • Read a book.
  • Meditate.
  • Journal.
  • Listen to relaxing music.
  • Chat to your partner.
  • Take a warm shower.
  • Play a board game.
  • Make some tea.

Although it’s a little less relaxing, exercising before bed could also be effective. It's a good way to relax and get the body prepared for sleep.

It’s actually a great way to exhaust both your mind and your body before settling in to sleep. Work out, take a quick warm shower, and your body and brain will be ready for rest.

Change Your Lifestyle

Sleep procrastination is super easy to fall back into. If you don’t make lifestyle changes, you may find yourself in exactly the same position in a few weeks or months.

Ultimately, the problem is less about sleep and more about priorities.

If you want excellent health, a sharp mind, and productivity, you may need to reassess your life/work balance.

Is your job making you miserable? Do you work all hours and not have time for friends and family? Is your health declining because you have no time for yourself?

These are important questions you should be asking. If the answer to any of them is yes, you may need to make some big decisions. Life’s too short to lose sleep just so you can be happy! 



Sleep procrastination is real and far more prevalent than we realize. You may be doing it without even knowing!

If you’ve suddenly realized that this is a bad habit you’ve developed, there’s good news. Once you know why it’s happening and the effects it can have, you can stop it.

Implement these steps consistently and you should find that your sleeping habits improve. Still feel like you’re missing out on hobbies and other important activities? It may be time to make bigger lifestyle changes.

Happy sleeping!