Revenge Bedtime Procrastination: Workaholism, Sleep Deprivation, & Self-Harm
The pressure to “do it all” is getting to us. Research shows that students today are more likely to be perfectionists than their Gen X predecessors, and it’s easy to see why. Many of those surveyed pointed to perceived societal expectations as the primary driver behind their need to succeed. What changed between the 80s and now? Scientists think it may be social media.
The widespread use of these platforms hasn’t just provided connection – it’s fostered competition. As students, young adults, and parents scroll through the achievements of their peers, they begin to put more pressure on themselves. For many, this inspires extra work hours and long nights without sleep: a phenomenon known as revenge bedtime procrastination.
Revenge Bedtime Procrastination: Why Stay Up?
The phrase “revenge bedtime procrastination” comes from a translation of a Chinese expression: “bàofùxìng áoyè.” Most often, it refers to the frustration that develops from an intense, high-stress workday. When someone returns home and only has a few hours to themselves, they may delay bedtime by several hours, resulting in sleep deprivation.
Some people use this time to indulge in leisure activities, like watching television, playing video games, or socializing with loved ones. For those with extremely high-pressure careers or time-sensitive responsibilities, however, these hours may be spent working into the night.
When Working Hard Goes Too Far
American culture prizes hard work – a spectacle that The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson calls “workism.” In an article titled “Workism is Making Americans Miserable,” Thompson explains the deep connection that has been forged between self-worth and productivity.
“It is the belief that work is not only necessary to economic production, but also the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose… A culture that funnels its dreams of self-actualization into salaried jobs is setting itself up for collective anxiety, mass disappointment, and inevitable burnout.”
It is important to note that this phenomenon includes stay-at-home parents, artists, and hobbyists – anyone with a long list of responsibilities – not just 9-to-5 employees. If Americans can’t meet their obligations on the clock, their urge to achieve spills over into the late-night hours. They may spend as much time worrying about what needs to be done as completing these tasks. Unfortunately, staying up all night in this way can be a sign of deeper mental health problems.
Sleep Deprivation as a Form of Self-Harm
This brings us to our primary point: depriving oneself of sleep can actually be a form of self-harm.
When someone is devoted to their to-do list or is continually subjected to stress, their mental health suffers. They may begin to believe that they aren’t achieving enough, aren’t progressing quickly enough, or aren’t good enough for their role. This insecurity creates a new narrative in the person’s mind: “I don’t deserve to rest – I didn’t get nearly enough done today.”
As a result, they stay awake. They may use this time to obsess over the events of the workday, attempt to finish up projects, or worry about the future. If left untreated, this cycle can result in myriad consequences, including:
- Mood swings
- Low self-esteem
- Memory problems
People who are sleep-deprived are at higher risk for car accidents, falls, and cardiovascular problems. They are predisposed to heart disease, cardiac arrhythmia, high blood pressure, and stroke.
Ironically, they also perform worse during the day. Executive functions like reasoning, decision-making, and problem-solving are all negatively impacted by sleeplessness.
Ultimately, punishing yourself by staying awake doesn’t help you succeed – this cycle will catalyze poor performance, increased depression symptoms, and a negative self-image. As such, those who are self-harming through sleep deprivation are encouraged to seek professional help.
Help for Self-Harm and Sleep Deprivation
You deserve a good night’s sleep. To unwind, relax, and leave the workday behind. With proper therapeutic intervention, you can challenge the harmful beliefs that are contributing to your sleep deprivation. Through one-on-one therapy with a licensed professional, you will begin to shore up your self-esteem, find joy in the everyday, and learn new ways to cope with life’s challenges.
At R&A Therapeutic Partners, we offer compassionate therapeutic support for those who are struggling with low self-worth, workaholism, and high levels of stress. To learn more about our services, contact R&A today.
Curran, T., & Hill, A. P. (2019). Perfectionism is increasing over time: A meta-analysis of birth cohort differences from 1989 to 2016. Psychological Bulletin, 145(4), 410–429. https://doi.org/10.1037/bul0000138.
Thompson, D. (2019, February 24). Workism Is Making Americans Miserable. The Atlantic. Retrieved March 17, 2022, from https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/02/religion-workism-making-americans-miserable/583441/.
At R&A Therapeutic Partners Raymond Estefania and Ana Moreno specialize in substance use and mental health disorder evaluations, treatment, intervention and therapeutic/educational consulting for clients throughout the greater South Florida area, as well as nationally and internationally. For more resources and information please visit Therapeutic-Partners.com or on Facebook.