“I feel like there’s been a loss of control over my days since the pandemic set in. I don’t even know how the day goes by,” says Dhruvika Sharma (19). The Delhi-based student shared that her sleep schedule has been disrupted with classes being shifted online.
“I have forgotten the concept of ‘single days’ because multiple days feel like one and my idea of time has shifted so miserably that I’m not even able to understand anymore,” she says. When the days pass by so negatively, she feels the need to stay up late at night, maximize ‘me-time’ and reclaim some semblance of free time. If you relate to Sharma’s experience of resisting sleeping early to seize the freedom of the night hours, perhaps you too are inadvertently engaging in ‘revenge bedtime procrastination’.
Why do we do this?
Smriti Joshi, lead psychologist at Wysa describes the phenomenon as “Giving up on your sleep for leisure time that is being missed due to one’s daily schedule.”Joshi cites cases where people feel like their jammed schedules and increased work responsibilities – arising out of the work-from-home policies – have further blurred the already tenuous boundaries between work and home.
“So by the time they wrap up with work, it’s nearly bedtime so it cuts into their leisure time,” says Joshi, explaining why people are forcing themselves to stay awake longer for self-indulgent activities like scrolling through social media or even catching up on shows. According to Joshi, the term ‘revenge’ was associated with it because it reflects the frustration tied to one’s stressful work hours, especially now when the time for personal enjoyment is cut down. “One can’t go and take that out on anyone else,” she remarks, “there’s no one else who has control over your routine or workday.”
“The term ‘revenge’ was only added to it on social media,” remarks Joshi, adding that these behaviours were present even before the pandemic. She explains that people with digital addictions would indulge in them mainly during the night time when they felt they weren’t really accountable to anyone.
“When I’m up for too long, I feel like I have no motivation to work. I’m so tired that I don’t even feel like eating,” says Sharma about how her new habits are affecting her. Unable to commit to the tasks she is assigned at college and at her internship, she feels the need to address this challenge that is damaging to her productivity.
What happens when your nights are not in control?
Nighttime procrastination can have both short-term and long-term effects, shares Joshi, “If it continues for a long time, there can be a sleep deficit and an impact on circadian rhythms.” She observes that one of the usual symptoms to understand if your sleep is insufficient or good quality is the way you wake up feeling. Fogginess, confusion or a lack of focus are common signs that your mental well-being is starting to be impacted.
“I’ve downloaded applications and set reminders to help keep my procrastination in check,” says Sharma. Unfortunately, they have not worked for her as she is far too mentally and physically exhausted for these interventions to work.
Joshi stresses the importance of comparing your productivity and focus to a time when you were not engaging in such behaviours. “Your decision-making skills could be impacted, response times could be slower which could become dangerous while driving, your recall time could also be slower,” she says. Inadequate sleep can also affect your relationships, Joshi points out. Increased irritability, lower tolerance, feeling on edge and more jittery can all stem from the issue but she emphasizes that it manifests differently in different people.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that you can compensate for lost sleep by sleeping in during the weekends. In fact, that could actually disrupt your sleep cycles even further, warns Joshi. “You can take power naps but limit them to 20 minutes during the day,” she recommends.
She understands that in the age of information overload, it’s easy to fall into a cycle of constant consumption. But she suggests ensuring that at least the last 30 minutes before falling asleep are device-free. Her recommendations also include reducing the consumption of news and social media closer to bedtime. Bid goodbye to that late evening coffee or coke because caffeine can also prompt you to stay up later.
Setting realistic boundaries with work is one way to regain control of your time, in Joshi’s opinion. Try to communicate your availability and non-availability with your team as much as possible so that you don’t feel like you’re imposing. It’s also necessary to not feel pressured into responding immediately even when someone else’s work time doesn’t align with yours.
(Edited by Amrita Ghosh)