The hour is late, and I am tired. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to do the sensible thing and go to bed. This is the first time today that no one has needed anything from me. The first time I haven’t been expected to be working, cooking, tidying, fetching, managing, delivering, caring or doing any of the other panoply of tasks most working-age adults seem to face on any given day. It’s just me, being me, in the quiet. Why would I cut this precious moment short?
I have always been a night owl – our owlish (night-time) or larkish (morning) chronotypes are set by our genetics – but in recent years I’ve become a “revenge sleep procrastinator”, too. This clunky translation of the Chinese term bàofùxìng áoyè became popular on social media during the pandemic. In China, most sleep or bedtime procrastinators are workers on the soul-sapping and horribly common 9-9-6 schedule (9am-9pm, six days a week) who, despite being exhausted, use their late-night, post-work hours to claw back some sense of self, even when they know they should be sleeping. My situation – two small children plus full-time job – is embarrassingly far from their experience, and yet many of us in the west find ourselves doing the same things. The revenge bit – which might be better translated as “retaliatory” – is that we are avenging ourselves against our busy lives, either by staying up too late or by not going to sleep once in bed, often because we’re on our screens.
As a studied phenomenon, sleep procrastination is a new thing. It was first mentioned in an academic paper in 2014, and we don’t know exactly how many sleep procrastinators are out there. But from anecdotal evidence and a few studies, I’m going to bet it’s a lot, and rising: in a global survey of 13,000 people by Philips this year, 70% of adults reported a new sleep issue since the pandemic began.
Dr Lindsay Browning, sleep specialist and author of a new book, Navigating Sleeplessness, agrees. “I am seeing many more clients who describe staying up later because they need alone time.” In China, it’s young people working brutal hours, but in Europe, studies suggest it’s also parents and students. But sleep procrastination can affect anyone who struggles with stress, extended working hours or inadequate downtime, which, in pandemic times, puts many more of us at risk.Advertisementhttps://48b119077746bdc4a6ab8f9c597f13f6.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
Earlier this year, Caroline Newte Hardie set up Peace+Riot, a family-friendly cafe-bar in south London, specifically to give knackered parents more support. But long hours working on a new business have exacerbated her revenge procrastination habit. “If I finish working at midnight, I need an hour, as I’m wired, even though I’m tired. Before I had kids I never needed time to myself, but now I need at least an hour to catch my breath, especially if I’ve spent the day in problem-solving mode. If I went straight to bed, my life would be just work-childcare-work-childcare.”