I stay up too late.
As I write this piece, my face illuminated from the glow of my computer screen in an otherwise dark room, I glance at the time and notice that the next day is only minutes away. This realization doesn’t really faze me. Even though it’s a Wednesday night and I have to be Zoom-meeting-ready for work in the morning, I don’t feel a strong desire to go to sleep just yet. And it’s the same way every night.
Until recently, I never understood why I can’t easily bring myself to go to bed. I don’t think I stay up late enough to qualify as an insomniac, and I’m always filled with remorse when I wake up in a groggy trance each morning. Considering I spend most late nights on my phone or watching Netflix, I have no valid reason to stay up late—at least not anymore. In college, when my roommates turned in for the night before 11 p.m., I’d still be plugging away at my homework for a couple of hours. But even that habit came as a result of personal preference rather than necessity. And while staying up late is a normal routine for many college students, I’d been doing it all through high school as well.
For the longest time I equated my behavior to the term “night owl,” and that simple explanation sufficed. Maybe I was never intended to be a morning person.
Then some clarity came one day when I was scrolling through Twitter. I saw a tweet with an unfamiliar expression, and after a few brief moments of research (aka googling), I made a new discovery.
What I do is known as revenge bedtime procrastination.
According to the Sleep Foundation, this perplexing term refers to the act of sacrificing sleep for more personal leisure time. While it sounds a little similar to being a “night owl” or an insomniac, there are three distinct factors that constitute the act of bedtime procrastination: 1) a delay in going to sleep that reduces one’s total sleep time, 2) the absence of a valid reason for staying up later than intended (such as an external event or an underlying illness), and 3) an awareness that delaying one’s bedtime could lead to negative consequences.
What’s interesting is that the “revenge” part was added to the regular definition of bedtime procrastination after the idea gained popularity on social media. When I first heard the term, I thought of the line in Dylan Thomas’s poem about raging against the dying of the light. By adding the word “revenge,” bedtime procrastination can be viewed as a way to get revenge on daytime hours when there is little to no enjoyment or free time. It’s often tied to frustration with long, stressful workdays.
My job doesn’t inflict enough stress for me to delay my bedtime each night, though. I think my behavior is best explained by a simple desire to have some quiet time to myself after everyone else in the house is asleep. That, and probably a lack of self-control, since revenge bedtime procrastination is often characterized by an intention-behavior gap. In other words, people who engage in bedtime procrastination know and generally want to receive enough sleep, but they fail to actually do so.
Because the term is relatively new, research on this subject is far from comprehensive. One study pegs students and women as the most likely to engage in revenge bedtime procrastination, and some speculate it’s on the rise due to pandemic-related stressors. There is, however, plenty of research out there on the negative consequences of sleep deprivation in general.
I’d love to be someone who goes to bed at a reasonable time and wakes up feeling refreshed. But part of me also welcomes the quiet stillness of the late night hours, even if I know the morning will bring regret. A lack of self-control? Perhaps. But maybe the procrastination is an opportunity—an opportunity to relax, to create, to behold, to lament. To be whatever I want it to be, or whatever I need it to be. Maybe I need to stop putting so much pressure on it.
Or maybe I just need to get some sleep.
Kayleigh (Fongers) Van Wyk (’18) graduated with a degree in writing and resides in West Michigan. She works as a reporter for the Grand Rapids Business Journal and Grand Rapids Magazine while also making time for freelance writing. When she’s not behind a screen, she enjoys going for walks, eating ice cream, and buying more books than she’ll ever read.